Mental health is something we all have. It refers to our psychological, emotional, and social well-being and affects how we think, feel, and act. When we have developed strategies to cope well with challenges and times of stress, when we can interact with others in healthy ways, and when we can set boundaries and make good choices then we might consider ourselves to be mentally healthy.
This week, 7th – 13th February, is Children’s Mental Health Week and the theme is growing together, so what better opportunity to shine the spotlight on the importance of this and to provide you with some helpful ideas to get you growing together as a family and supporting your child’s mental health and well-being at home.
When we think of growth, the first thing we might think of is the physical kind: noticing how much taller your child has become, how much longer their hair has got, or that they’re quickly outgrowing their school uniform. These might be the immediate things that spring to mind, but what about EMOTIONAL GROWTH?
Whilst physical growth is easy to see, emotional growth might include:
- Coping better with life’s ups and downs. We all have ‘off’ days and some days might be easier than others. If children have strategies for dealing with setbacks and disappointments as they grow, they are more likely to be able to cope when things go wrong and to regulate their emotions far better.
- Overcoming obstacles. As we grow emotionally, things that once overwhelmed us might not cause the same reaction they once did. By overcoming obstacles, children learn the important skill of resilience and the importance of being able to keep trying when things get hard.
- Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. As human beings, we have an inbuilt survival instinct driven by our primitive brain (more simply referred to as our ‘fight or flight’ response) that makes us all naturally wary of change. Our comfort zone refers to our routines and habits, which our brain has learnt to perceive as ‘safe.’ Although pushing ourselves out of this space might feel uncomfortable, or even a little scary, we are rewarded afterwards with a healthy dose of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which makes us feel good. Not only that but stepping out of our comfort zone can be one of the fastest ways to achieve personal and emotional growth. It boosts energy and creativity and of course, with repetition, our brain learns that it can be fun after all!
- Communicating more effectively. As children grow, they can develop healthy ways to communicate their needs and wants, whilst considering others’ feelings and opinions too. This might include developing the skill of taking turns and co-operating better with others and sharing their own opinions and viewpoints in healthy and positive ways.
Emotional growth for children is often a slow and gradual process that needs the support of parents and loved ones to help guide them in the right direction. Sometimes our emotional growth can get a little ‘stuck’ and children might find themselves repeating the same behaviours out of habit or because they are unsure of what they can do instead. This is where, as adults, we can lend a little helping hand.
Some of the ways we might support our children to grow might include:
- Modelling this to our children. Children notice the things we do far more than we realise and they are always looking to see how we, as adults, handle difficult situations or react when we try something new. So, perhaps there has been a time recently when you have stepped out of your comfort zone? Or maybe you felt really pleased with how you handled a situation you usually find hard? Talking to children about our own experiences and setbacks, where appropriate, shows them that this is a normal part of life and no matter how hard something might feel, it’s how we deal with it that counts. Providing children with a positive role model in this way can be a really powerful thing!
- Point out examples of growth all around you. From trees and nature, the changing seasons to books and stories you might read together, there are examples of growth everywhere we look. Pointing these examples out to children reminds them that growing and changing is a normal and healthy part of life that you can celebrate and embrace together. Nature also provides a lovely analogy that explains how things are always growing but their progress can often appear slow. We don’t always see growth immediately but it is happening and, sometimes, in beautiful and unexpected ways. The same is true for children too!
- Setting goals. Encourage your child to set goals for themselves. This might be to do with their hobbies or coping better with an upcoming challenge or situation. Encourage them to write their goal down and visualise themselves achieving it. You could even provide your child with a lovely visual, like a cut-out of a ladder or mountain, and work with them to plot what the small steps of success might look like as they work towards achieving their goal. As Youth Fairies, we support children to break their goals down into small, achievable steps and see time and time again how small steps lead to HUGE positive change.
- Encourage children to think of something they’re already good at. This can be a great way to open up a discussion about how they got to this point. Did they always find it easy? Did they achieve their goal the first time or did they have a few setbacks along the way? If their goal was hard to achieve, what motivation did they find to keep going and how did it feel when they finally achieved it? What would it look like if they were a small step better than they are now? Discussions like this are a great way to support children to find those strengths they have used before and to help them work out how they can use this to help them overcome the things they find hard right now.
- Consider the language you and your child use. When children become discouraged with their progress, we might hear them say things like ‘I’m not good at that,’ or ‘I can’t do it.’ Try to encourage them to add the word YET onto the ends of these sentences so that it becomes ‘I’m not good at that YET,’ or ‘I can’t do it YET.’ This simple word can make the impossible feel possible and shows children that growth might just take a little more time.
- Celebrate growing together. Talk to your child about the goals you have achieved and encourage them to do the same. It might be something they have learned, a skill they have improved, or a situation they coped so much better with. Point out the growth you have noticed in your child and ask them to share the growth of others they have noticed too – whether it be a sibling, friend, or you!
Encouraging children to keep on growing is a brilliant way to nurture their mental health and well-being. It develops the skills of resilience and perseverance, nurtures confidence, and the ability to recognise their strengths and reflect on their achievements. Even though challenges might appear difficult at first glance, with the right support, we can help our children to continue to grow and flourish. So, in the words of Joanna Raptis:
‘Be like a tree. Stay grounded. Connect with your roots. Turn over a new lead. Bend before you break. Enjoy your unique natural beauty. Keep growing.’