May 7th-13th is Canadian Mental Health and Wellness Week. A good time to focus on ways we can encourage the development of our children in ways that foster their well-being. Tips for parents on promoting good mental health can be found in abundance on the web and at your local library. While getting enough sleep, being physically active and eating healthy foods will always be at the top of any list, here are some others it’s equally good to remind ourselves of.
Spend time together. It’s a busy world, not just for us adults but also for our children. There are many distractions. It is easy to sidestep the type of time together that our children need in order for them to feel they are important to the adults in their lives. Engage in fun, meaningful activities together that create good memories. These memories are then available for both child and adult to draw upon during more stressful times.
Show your child your full attention. Showing a genuine interest in children and their lives starts with positive eye contact and involves asking about their teachers, their friends, and their daily routines. A common child response to asking about how the school day went is “boring”. When this happens just continue to be curious, and help the child talk about his or her day. Always end on a positive note. Some of us feel we can be fully attentive while on our phones. This is impossible, and even if we could, ‘giving’ and ‘showing’ our child attention is different, so please put down the phone!
Be aware of how you respond to the sharing of your child. Children won’t share if they expect mom or dad will disapprove of something. It is wise to watch out for our tendency to get caught up in what brain researcher’s term ”the negativity bias”. This is our human tendency, to notice and track for what is wrong rather than what is right. This part of the ancient brain system was essential for survival when we were avoiding predators, and it continues to serve us well in times of real threat, but left unmonitored it can become the lens through which we view everyday life and relationships.
Be generous with your praise. Children don’t always ‘get it right’ and may experience being reprimanded more than praised as childhood is a time for learning through experience. The natural negativity bias in our children can set them up to only notice what they got wrong (how many focus on the one wrong, not the nineteen right on a test for instance?) or only notice when their mum or dad were mad at them etc. Encourage your child to notice the positive, the exceptions to the problems. A role model for them with use of positive self-talk and problem-solving examples they can follow.
Monitor and reduce stress levels in YOURSELF. Children’s nervous systems respond to the nervous systems of their parents. It takes a regulated ‘other’ to engage regulation in our children. Engage in relaxing and meaningful activities as a family such as taking walks, listening to music, etc. Add fun and laughter into the activity mix and double its mental health benefit.
Of course the list of tips can go on. Studies reveal that children who do well emotionally display something referred to as “grit” as well as having a “growth mindset” that encourages them to be better learner’s. Skills associated with ‘grit’ and ‘growth mindset’ include persistence and problem solving, and confidence in capacity to set and achieve realistic goals. It turns out that it is the presence of ‘grit’ or “growth mindset” rather than IQ that is a predictor of success and on-going wellbeing during our school years and into adulthood.
Go online, or hit your local library to check out these terms and discover ways of encouraging their development in your child. During Mental Health and Wellness week I offer a toast to spring planting and the health and wellness of Creston Valley’s best crop – our children and youth!
About Growth Mindset: onetimethrough.com
About Grit: verywellfamily.com and Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
Children’s Mental Health and Wellness: www.readyforlife.ca
Anxiety Help for Children and Parents: www.anxietybc.com
Submitted by Jean Thomas-Mitton on behalf of The Creston Community Mental Health Awareness Committee.