Mental Health and Kids

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Life takes a toll on developing-child brains — is it time for a mental break? Know when to insist on your child taking five and how to help them relax.

Life is demanding enough for adults — are you aware that your kids go through similar stresses? Add up their hard-working hours at school, homework, sports, friends, emotions and life changes, and you have what’s called mental overload.

Sitting and talking with your kids about their mental health is the first place to start. From the day they have a first tantrum to a total teenage meltdown, a mental check-in is everything when it comes to their emotional well-being.

Mental health issues can begin to develop at a very young age. According to Beech Acres Parenting Center’s blog, one in five children live with serious mental health issues. It’s important that you learn to sit and talk with your kids about what may be weighing on their brains — getting it out is the key.

It’s never been more important to speak openly and honestly about mental health with your children, according to Beech Acres Parenting Center. As with most essential topics, start at the beginning. Talk with your children about their feelings, focus on their strengths, and most importantly listen to what they have to say.

Tailor your support to the age of your child. According to Beech Acres, age-appropriate speaking techniques are important when having one-on-one conversation.

YOUNGER AND OLDER

For example, for young children, keep it simple and speak in terms and contexts that they can understand. Preschool-age children may not tell you how they feel, but they may express their feelings in a variety of other ways. Adolescents, of course, are different.

“‘Tweens and teens tend to experience drastic and greater pressures, including physical changes, complex relationships and more,” according to Beech Acres.

Teens are also very aware of the world around them, and some psychologists have tied a growth in mental health issues among teenagers to increased social media use, academic pressure and frightening events like terror attacks and school shootings. Teens express their emotions differently, and sometimes they don’t want to talk, which can be occasionally OK. Instead, try encouraging them to express themselves with painting, music, dance or other creative ways that helps build their mental strength and confidence.

Discussing mental health with your teenagers is critically important, according to Beech Acres. With teen suicide at an all-time high, there has never been a better reason to talk, and listen to, your kids. Having conversations around positive emotions and what makes them feel good, reinforces good feelings, and helps prepare them to cope with the bad.

WHEN TO PROVIDE A BREAK

We all have good days and bad days. But when you notice something is wrong and your kids are having emotional breakage, it’s OK to allow them a mental break, whether that be taking time as a family, going on a nature walk, taking time away from extra activities, or whatever it is that relaxes your child’s mind.

According to Dr. John La Count, M.D., a pediatrician at St. Elizabeth Physicians, mental and physical health go hand-in-hand.

“Your mental health is exactly like your physical health,” La Count says. “If you’re not going to adapt and deal with it, you’re going to see problems.”

Practice Mental Health Awareness With Your Kids

• Practice mindfulness, meditation and other relaxation activities.

• Talk with your child about stress and symptoms they may experience because of that stress.

• Gather more information about your child’s developmental stage.

• Use media and daily experiences to normalize conversations about reacting to specific emotions.

Source: Beech Acres Parenting Center (beechacres.org).

Amanda Hayward is editor of this publication. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, a military wife and mom of two. If you don't see her writing for Cincinnati Family, you'll find her running, juggling kids, teaching group fitness classes and cooking up healthy recipes.

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