How Can We Nurture Children’s Mental Health? 

In the fast-paced, technology-infused, constantly evolving world we occupy today, stress is almost unavoidable. So much so that even young children can be commonly heard using phrases such as “I feel stressed,” “I am depressed,” “life is difficult,” etc. This casual use of language points to the worrisome rise in mental health issues among young people as they grapple with multiple stressors and performance pressure in all aspects of life. 

Considering the competition and rapid change that is  characteristic of the 21st century, perhaps stress itself cannot be completely alleviated from children’s lives.  But here are some ways in which we as parents, teachers and guardians can support young people in order to minimise their risks of stress-induced mental health problems: 

Build strong, supportive bonds 

Healthy relationships are the most important pillars of support for young people. In our increasingly busy lives, it is essential to carve out quality time that we dedicate to our children so as to help them feel safe and cared for. Make it a point to have at least one meal together everyday, go on weekend outings and excursions or just spend quiet time together whenever possible. Be sure to keep away from smartphones and other screens when spending time together. Why not go old school and indulge in fun activities like puzzles, card games, board games, art and craft and more? Quality time together is key to fostering meaningful and fulfilling relationships that are so essential to a child’s psychological wellbeing. 

Listen and pay attention 

It is not enough to simply spend time with children. True communication is a lot about listening and ensuring that children feel heard and listened to. This ensures that when they are faced with stressful situations and problems of any kind, they will open up and share their feelings with you. Do remember that it’s ok for children and youth to feel sad or angry. Encourage them to talk about how they feel, and keep conversation flowing by asking meaningful questions. However, in a case where your child does not feel comfortable talking to you, help him/her find someone that they can speak to so as to get them timely help if and when needed. 

Be a mindful parent 

Young people both consciously and unconsciously pick up habits, patterns and language from the people around them. That’s why it pays to be more mindful of how we speak and and behave around children in particular. When children see their parents respond negatively to stress of any kind, they learn how to do the same and acquire detrimental thought patterns. So make a conscious effort to cultivate positivity in your thoughts, attitudes and life as a whole. Be careful about discussing serious family issues—such as finances, marital problems, or illness—around your children. Children can worry about these things. At the same time, be a role model by taking care of your own mental health: Talkabout your feelings and make time for things you enjoy. Teach your children how to relax when they feel upset. This could be through deep breathing, going for a walk, or spending some time alone. 

Provide unconditional love and acceptance 

Every child needs love and acceptance from the people around them, especially their parents. When your child shares their innermost feelings and experiences with you, be patient and understanding. Reserve judgements and make it a point to respond with empathy. Even when a child needs reprimanding, there is always a way to do it in a nurturing way that reinforcesa message of love and acceptance to the child. When a child feels loved, it builds their self esteem and enables them to feel good about themselves which is key to avoiding mental health issues or dealing with them in a timely manner. 

Cultivate respect and trust 

It is essential to treat children as individuals and respect their unique needs and opinions. Remember that it’s not always necessary for children to see things from your point of view. When a problem situation arises, show your children some respect by considering their thoughts and ideas about it. Talk about possible solutions to improve a situation and try not to take over as the chief problem solver. Moreover, as a general rule, help children set realistic goals for themselves and praise them when they do well. Recognise their efforts as well as what they achieve. In day-to-day affairs, ask for their opinions about issues at hand and value these. This creates a bond of mutual trust and respect which gives children confidence in their capabilities. This promotes sound psychological health and creates a healthy environment for young minds to blossom in. 

On the occasion of World Mental Health Day 2017, Ms. Phoram Trivedi, consultant neuropsychologist and cognitive behaviour therapist from Shalby Hospitals had an interactive session with high school students at Ahmedabad International School.