How to prepare your child for a lifetime of positive mental health

The World Health Organisation recognizes World Mental Health Day on 10 October every year. The theme of 2022's World Mental Health Day, set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is "Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority". There is an emphasis on how this starts and suggests the individual pays attention to and makes their mental health a priority.

On World Mental Health Day we are presenting article written by UNISEF about building foundation in children's mental health.

AGE 0-5 Lay the foundation in this period of growth and learning.

From the first smile and first step to experiencing a whole range of emotions, your child is passing many important childhood milestones. This is a time of growth and learning and an ideal time to start supporting your child’s mental well-being.

Laying the foundations for a happy and healthy life

Your child looks to you for love, learning and safety. Try to spend as much quality time together as possible. Fostering a warm and tender relationship, and helping your child feel safe and cared for, go a long way to laying the groundwork for a lifetime of good mental health.


Babies

Spending quality time with your child is good for both of you. It even releases natural hormones that help you bond with your baby and enhance well-being for both of you!

  • Play with them, cuddle them.

  • Talk to them, sing to them.

  • Respond to their sounds with words so they can begin to understand language and communication.

Toddlers

As your child starts to move around more, their desire to explore is increasing. This curiosity needs nurturing and encouragement.

  • Read to your child (every day if you can).

  • Play games that engage their curiosity and learning.

  • Ask your child to name things – start with their name and objects around them, keep it simple.

  • Explore the surroundings outside your home together.

Pre-schoolers

As your child grows more independent and curious, they will want to explore the world outside and learn about the things around them. Interactions with people will help them develop their own ways of thinking and understand the world around them.

  • Encourage social interaction through play with other children.

  • Invite them to help you with simple age-appropriate chores. Guide them through steps to solve simple problems.

  • Set clear boundaries and realistic expectations. Follow up ‘No’ with alternatives for what you would prefer them to do instead.

  • Provide them with clear choices that are easy for them to understand when making decisions on what to eat, wear or play.

What to look out for

Young children are learning how to express themselves and manage big emotions. This can sometimes cause anger or stress when they cannot communicate their needs. When children feel stressed or overwhelmed, they need a loving adult to help reassure them and help them to navigate their feelings.

Avoid...

  • Any form of violence, including shouting and hitting. When a child lives in a negative environment it can cause “toxic stress” – harming the child’s growth and development – as well as long term problems in later life.

  • Frequent arguments between parents and people around the child. Tension in the environment can be stressful for children – they may feel neglected, powerless and vulnerable.

  • Any form of neglect. Children need consistent attention, love and care for their healthy growth and development.

AGE 6-10

As your child starts school, their physical, mental and social skills are developing rapidly. They are learning to describe experiences and talk more about their emotions. Friendships and peer pressure start becoming more important as they shift their focus from home to the world outside. By spending more time outside home, your child is gaining a sense of responsibility and learning to be independent. Some older children will start to go through puberty and will show physical changes, as well as emotional ones.

Time to check in

Starting school brings children face-to-face with the outside world and is a major life event!

It is a critical time for children to develop confidence in all areas of life, such as navigating relationships, learning at school and sports, and managing their emotions. Checking in on how they’re doing and supporting them along the way can help them foster resilience and mental well-being.

How to start the conversation with your child.

  • Start by asking how they’re doing. Talk to your child about school, friends, the things they like and dislike doing and what they find difficult.

  • Use everyday events that cause positive and negative emotions – like winning at sports or scoring low grades – to check in on how your child feels and to forge a strong bond with them.

  • As they get older, and if appropriate to your child’s development, talk about the normal physical and emotional changes of puberty and help them to know what to expect. Check in on how they’re feeling, if they have any worries or questions you can talk through together.


Maintain an open, trusting and loving environment

"Help your child feel comfortable about opening up to you."

  • Your child wants to be liked and accepted by people around them. Being accepted by you is the first step toward building confidence.

  • Be mindful of the examples you set. Your child looks to you and picks up on your emotions and how you respond to different situations.

  • Recognize their accomplishments and good behaviour. Praise them by focusing on their actions (“you worked hard on this and it really shows!”) rather than them as a person (“Oh, you’re smart!”).

Remember: Your time is a precious gift for your child

  • Saying “I love you” or hugging your child are not the only ways to show affection.

  • Really listen and show a genuine interest in what they have to say.

  • Have fun together with special activities no matter how small.

  • Include them in family decisions like what to eat for dinner.

  • Let them know that you love them no matter what, even when they make mistakes.

AGE 11-13

As your child enters puberty, they are better able to express their feelings and have a stronger sense of right and wrong. They can make their own choices about friends, sports, and school. With this independence comes a bigger focus on their own personality, interests, and friends.

They are also undergoing many physical changes like the starting of periods for girls and deepening voices among boys. For some children, these changes might be worrying or frightening.

A time of Change

Rapid physical changes combined with concerns about their appearance and the importance of friendships can affect a child’s mental and emotional well-being. It can be a challenging time for children as they navigate this important stage of development. Knowing that they can talk to you about their worries or problems can make a world of difference.


Children at this age can

  • Experience moodiness – going back and forth between highs and lows.

  • Feel burdened by schoolwork.

  • Develop eating problems/concerns.

  • Feel sad or anxious which can lead to lack of confidence, low self-esteem and other issues depending on the child.

How to start the conversation

  • Make the time and space to start the conversation without any pressure or expectations.

  • Consider a time like while doing chores, cooking or while travelling together.

  • Let the conversation flow naturally – be conversational rather than ‘questioning’.

  • Be sensitive to their mood – if they are having a bad day or are busy, choose a different time.

Open, honest, and direct communication

If you notice changes in your child’s mood or behavior, gently let them know you’ve noticed and ask if they would like to talk about it. For example:

  • They don’t seem as sociable with their friends as before – did they have an argument?

  • Their school grades go down – is there a particular subject they’re struggling with?

  • They appear to have become moodier, sadder, or quieter – is there something on their mind?

Do

  • Listen: Actively try to listen to what they are saying without letting your thoughts a judgmentent guide the conversation. Respect and encourage your child’s opinion.

  • Acknowledge: Assure them that you understand their thoughts and feelings, encourage them to be open, with you, and them reassure that you are there for them. Remind them that you were this age once too and remember experiencing the same feelings.

  • Offer solutions: Ask them if they have thought about what might need to change – “What do you think should be done?” If they haven’t, offer to listen and talk it through with them. Support them with what they need to feel better.

Don’t

  • Tell them what they should do. Instead, ask how you can help them.

  • Dismiss or minimize their feelings. Remember, it is hard to open up about feelings which may be confusing for the child.

  • Argue. Observe your own thoughts and feelings and watch out for conflict. Try and resolve any conflicts or arguments as soon as possible if this happens, apologize and start again.

  • Blame others. Saying “This is your school’s fault!” for example, externalizes the problem but does not solve it.

  • Compare. Avoid saying things like “Other children don’t have these issues.”

  • Remember: Patience and consistency are key

  • At this age, your child might be expressing less affection towards you and sometimes seem rude or short-tempered.

  • As they become more independent and want to be more in control, chances are you will encounter resistance from them at times. These conversations are new and can sometimes be uncomfortable for your child.

  • Remember, it may take some time, but try to always make it clear that you love them and you are only thinking of their well-being.

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