For most parents, it is natural to want children to live stress-free lives and to be generally happy, but of course, stress is part of living, and most children will eventually experience a mental health-related challenge of some kind. Watching children deal with something as complex as mental health often leads parents to feel helpless, confused, and anxious themselves.
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, here are some important points to remember:
· Take care of your own mental health. We hear frequently about “self-care” and that “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” but this truly is of utmost importance when our children are struggling. For a child with anxiety, it’s nearly impossible to help them to learn coping strategies if their parent doesn’t know any strategies themselves. It’s incredibly difficult to help a child regulate anger or other emotions appropriately when the parent is dysregulated themselves. Children tend to be very good at recognizing their parents’ feelings, even if they don’t verbalize it. Younger kids will take cues from their parents regarding how to feel about a situation. This doesn’t meant that kids need parents with perfect mental health, but it does mean that kids benefit greatly from seeing their parents prioritize things like mindfulness, healthy expression of emotions and communication, and going to therapy if needed.
· Recognize that all feelings are okay and valid. It’s tempting, for example, to want your child’s anxiety to abruptly end. Most parents would love to take away their children’s suffering immediately—but there is great value in parents increasing their own tolerance of negative emotions, and thereby increasing their children’s tolerance as well. Encourage tolerance of feelings by asking your child to describe what the feeling feels like in their body or to talk about the thoughts in their head. Rather than quickly doing everything you can to make the anxiety or fear or anger disappear, aim to show your child that it’s okay to “sit with” the feeling for some time and possibly use some coping strategies, and that it will in fact pass. Consider that your job is not to take the discomfort away, but to join with your child and truly understand this discomfort first, and then to consider ways to feel better. In doing this, children will see that their parents are okay with hearing about negative feelings, and will be more likely to openly share with them.
· Model expressing and coping with feelings whenever possible. Adults tend to do a lot of mental health “work” in our minds. We might give ourselves positive self-talk silently (“You can do this!”) or internally decide how we’re going to cope with a situation (“I need a few minutes to myself to breathe”). When possible, make these processes known to your children. Verbalize how you’re feeling, even if it’s not something you’d normally do (“I’m a little overwhelmed today”). If you can, go one step further and model how you plan to cope with this feeling (“I think I’ll go for a walk outside later”). Feel free to be honest about the fact that coping strategies don’t completely eliminate feelings, but that they reduce the intensity and help you move on to other things.
If your child’s mental health concern is impacting their ability to participate in or enjoy daily activities, it is likely time to meet with a therapist. Therapists will collaborate with you to determine what type of therapy would benefit your child, how often they should be seen, and what goals they will work toward.
For more information, reach out to Favored Wellness Counseling and Consulting, LLC at 412-339-1782 or email@example.com.