Mental health - Health

Mental Health Awareness: Tips for Kids & Parents

May is Mental Health Awareness month, with the week of May 5 – 11 set aside to recognize Children’s Mental Health. Last May, the U.S. Surgeon General released a Surgeon General Advisory on the mental health crisis in our country. Here in Florida, it is estimated that over 2.8 million adults are living with a mental health condition. For young people between ages 6 – 17, it is projected that 1 in 6 experience a mental health issue every year.

Aligned with Mental Health Awareness Month, First Lady Casey DeSantis has introduced groundbreaking Resiliency Florida resources. This innovative program presents a unique opportunity for Florida parents and grandparents to step up as Resiliency Coaches, providing invaluable support for students navigating life’s challenges. With a focus on crucial skills like empathy and problem-solving, Resiliency Florida aims to empower educators and families to help children develop resilience and engage in healthy, effective discussions about mental health. Moreover, the Florida Department of Education offers a range of resiliency and mental health resources.

Mental Health Tips for Children

Much like we teach children healthy habits like brushing their teeth or eating breakfast every day, as a parent or caregiver, there are mental health habits you can help the children in your life learn and practice:

  • Practice Healthy Coping Skills. We know bad days happen. Helping your child learn and practice healthy ways to feel and manage their emotions will support them during rough times. Deep breathing techniques, taking a walk, or arts and crafts activities can help your child redirect their stress while developing their coping abilities.
  • Keep the Lines of Communication Open. As humans, we all make mistakes – it’s part of growing. Foster an environment where your child feels comfortable and safe sharing their thoughts, feelings, and mistakes without fear of judgment. Let them know that you support them while also taking the time to explain any necessary consequences.
  • Establish Routines & Boundaries. Life is filled with uncertainty. Setting daily schedules or weekly routines, such as a Family Game Night every weekend, gives children a sense of predictability and stability at home. Setting clear expectations on what is expected of them at home and school provides kids structure and can help reduce anxiety.
  • Give Positive Feedback. You like to know when you’re doing something well – it’s the same for your child. Acknowledge and praise your child’s achievements, and when you know they are making an effort. This will help boost their self-esteem and confidence.
  • Get Moving! Help your child engage in a physical activity they enjoy, such as sports, dancing, riding a bike, etc. This not only gives them an outlet for their stress, but exercise has been proven to improve mood.
  • Make Decisions Together Whenever Possible. As an adult, you know that sometimes making the simplest of decisions can be stressful. Help your child develop a sense of autonomy and responsibility by including them in age-appropriate discussions and decisions, like what fun activity to do that weekend or what to have for dinner.
  • Show That You Are Listening. In other words, practice active listening by giving your child your full attention while they are talking about their day. Ask them how certain situations made them feel, extending empathy. When it comes to conflicts, ask them their opinion on what they should do before offering solutions.
  • Encourage Healthy Relationships. Help your child build friendships with other children by setting up playdates or inviting their friends to fun activities. This will help your child create their own support network outside the home.

Children grow and develop so quickly that it is normal for these changes to impact their emotions and behavior. However, there is cause for concern if these changes interfere with the development of their thinking, behavioral, or relationship skills, affecting how they function at home, school, or in other social situations. If you notice that your child is becoming withdrawn, check-in and let them know you are there to support them. And do not be afraid to ask for help by talking to your child’s pediatrician or school counselor. Some signs that your child may need professional help include:

  • Sad or withdrawn for more than 2 weeks
  • Severe mood swings
  • Massive changes in behavior
  • Uncontrollable anger
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in eating or weight loss
  • Isolation or not wanting to see friends
  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope

Mental Health Tips for Parents & Caregivers

Practicing self-care is a significant way to help your child learn good mental health habits. Children learn so much from watching the adults in their lives, especially those who love and care for them. While you may think that you do not have time or the luxury to practice self-care, think about this: If you do not care for yourself, who will be there to take care of your family? Taking care of yourself does not have to consume much time or money. There are little things you can do to care for your mental, physical, and emotional health so you can not only be a better caregiver but also a great role model and person:

  • Start Small. You do not have to revamp your entire lifestyle; you can begin with one manageable change. Things like drinking more water or taking a 10-minute walk every day are good healthy habits, and from there, you can gradually add new self-care techniques to your routine.
  • Schedule it to Make it Happen. We get it done if it’s on our calendar, right? So schedule blocks of time specifically for self-care activities like reading a new book or taking a bubble bath, and keep it like you would any other appointment.
  • Seek Support. Work out with a friend. Have date nights with your significant other. Join a book club. Find an online community for that unique hobby that you love.
  • Learn & Practice Mindfulness. Start with deep breathing exercises to manage stress and encourage relaxation. From there, take time to appreciate the environment around you and how you move in it, and assess what you need to feel better.
  • Make a Stress Plan. You know it’s going to happen. All of us will have moments of high stress at some point during the day, week, or month. Think of ways to make those times more manageable, such as meal prepping on the weekends or coordinating schedules with other responsible adults, so you have some free time.
  • Change Your To-Do List to a Done List. You do so much throughout the day, so it is important to take a moment and acknowledge everything you have achieved. Instead of focusing on unfinished tasks, write down everything you accomplished, from getting your kids to school on time to completing that project at work.
  • Let it Go. Elsa was right. Sometimes we need to let go of the non-essential responsibilities that can overwhelm us. Do you need to go to your co-worker’s backyard BBQ? Can you wait a few days to vacuum the living room while things are busy at home and work? Give yourself permission to let go without self-judgment.

By prioritizing self-care, you will not only reduce your stress but also create a healthier environment for your children, where they will learn good mental health habits that will help them thrive. Furthermore, if life ever feels too overwhelming, it is okay to ask for professional help. Seeking and accepting professional help to support your mental health will help you feel supported and more resilient while showing your children the value and importance of investing in self-care and wellness.

You can learn more about supporting your family and friends by attending trainings for Mental Health First Aid. These free sessions teach you how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges among adults. Find out more about the Mental Health First Aid training courses and other free events in our community.

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