Good mental health is vital for a healthy childhood. But between the Covid-19 pandemic, political upheaval on the world stage, violence and war, bullying, and other modern problems, more children are experiencing mental health challenges.
As your child starts a new school year, keep these tips in mind to positively support your child’s mental health.
1. Help Them Express Emotions
Learning to express thoughts and feelings is a process that takes time and positive modeling. Children learn by observation, so practice naming and expressing your own thoughts and emotions in healthy and positive ways will encourage your child to do the same.
Children may struggle to find the best words to explain how they’re feeling. To address this, use age-appropriate resources like The Feelings Book by Todd Parr and Feelings by Libby Walden to help build an emotional vocabulary that will serve them the rest of their lives.
2. Reduce Screen Time
Although we are heavily interconnected with screen-based activities, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends restricting childhood screen time to zero hours per day until 24 months. After that, they recommend children between the ages of 2 and 4 years have no more than 1 hour of screen time per day.
Despite these recommendations, preschool-aged children are estimated to watch an average of 1-4 hours of TV each day. The average American spends about 7 hours each day looking at screens.
According to a study published in 2022, prolonged screen use in childhood has been linked to adverse health outcomes, including behavioral problems and emotional regulation difficulties.
The reason for these problems isn’t yet completely understood. Still, theories suggest children’s developing brains may be negatively affected by exposure to fast-moving 2-dimensional electronic media which does not encourage concentration skills.
Use screens as little as possible to optimize your child’s intellectual and emotional health.
3. Encourage a Healthy Diet
In recent years, researchers examining the relationship between diet and mental health have discovered the potential of specific dietary nutrients to improve cognitive performance.
What we eat affects the chemical messengers, also known as neurotransmitters, in our body. Serotonin is one such neurotransmitter. Serotonin is also one of four “feel-good hormones.”
Healthy levels of serotonin are associated with focus, emotional stability, and feelings of contentment. Serotonin synthesis (good) increases in the brain when we eat a protein-rich diet low in simple carbohydrates.
Lower serotonin levels, on the other hand, are associated with depression, anxiety, and mood problems.
To maintain healthy levels of serotonin and other feel good neurotransmitters, encourage your child to eat a diet with plenty of high-quality protein, like fatty fish, whole-fat cheese, eggs, turkey, nuts, and seeds just to name a few.
4. Provide Structure
Parents can nurture their child’s mental health by providing structure and boundaries in daily life.
Children who know what to expect feel more at ease in the world. Children with clear boundaries also feel more comfortable taking healthy risks–an essential part of developing independence.
Providing structure for your child means having clear rules and expectations. We, as parents, should avoid changing the rules or moving the goalpost when we feel we can’t enforce the rules and expectations we have set.
To provide clear structure, establish a daily routine. For some, this routine might look like: wake up, have breakfast, get ready and leave for school, do homework after school, play/color/create, have dinner, bath time, and go to bed at roughly the same time nightly.
On weekends, offer a healthy balance of structured activities, such as arts and crafts, sports, and chores. And be sure to throw in time to relax, unwind and regroup.
Healthy structure in a child’s life can mean the difference between your child developing a fear-based view of the world and your child viewing the world as a safe, exciting place to explore.
5. Prioritize Healthy Relationships
Children need strong, healthy relationships with family, friends, and community members.
Prioritize activities that build these bonds, such as eating dinner together as a family, getting involved in local activities, and keeping in touch with relatives.
Don’t forget to look after your own mental health as well. According to the CDC, children’s mental health is connected to their parent’s mental health. When parents or caregivers are mentally healthy, they experience fewer difficulties when caring for their children.
Conversely, children with at least one parent with poor mental health are more likely to have poor health overall, to have a mental, emotional, or developmental disability, and to live in poverty.
CONTACT CREATIVE COUNSELING CENTER
Our goal is to support parents with tools and resources and through parent coaching. If your child is struggling, we can certainly see your child for play therapy or other clinical, creative modality that engages children. We can also help you help your child. By sharing tools and resources and offering psychoeducation, our hope is that you feel more confident to support your child or even to know you are doing the right thing. We offer a free phone consultation so you can get to know us a bit. To request a free phone consultation, simply complete the brief from below. A member of our team will contact you and, after a conversation about what and your child are experiencing, we can help determine whether our practice and which therapist might be a good fit. If our practice isn’t a match, for whatever reason, we’re happy to offer recommendations to providers in the Denver metro area. We look forward to hearing from you!