Mental health boosters for kids

Help your child be the best they can be

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By Michelle Newman

With so much talk surrounding adult mental health, it’s vital to keep in mind that children can suffer from these issues too and their concerns should not be overlooked. Shockingly studies carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland showed that Irish children could be more at risk of suffering from mental health issues than their counterparts in other areas of Europe and the United States.

Psychologist and author of The Essential Guide to Special Education in Ireland, David J. Carey, has worked with children, adolescents and adults for 40 years. Here David outlines some of the ways in which parents can support their child’s wellbeing and protect their mental health

 

Positivity and Encouragement

“When it comes to maintaining positive reinforcements for children, there are two very important things to remember. Firstly, for every critical comment you say to your child, back this up with three positive ones. Far too many children are raised with constant criticism and no one thrives in this type of an environment. It’s also damaging to the spirit of the child, so changing the content of your remarks will have an immediate effect on your children. As a result they will want to do more for you and will act in a more cooperative way. They will also be more cheerful and energetic. Secondly, it’s best to focus on the effort your child puts into something, rather than the result achieved. Encouragement recognises the effort that a child puts into completing a task. It can and should be offered even when the child has been unsuccessful. A good way of approaching this is to simply ask your child, ‘Did you put enough effort into it?’ When children are asked a genuine question, without anger or incrimination, they will always respond truthfully. If you can incorporate these two key methods into your parenting, you are guaranteed to raise mentally healthy and resilient children.”

 

Inspire Independence

“Always be one step behind your child. In other words, never do for them what he or she can reasonably try to do for themselves. Encourage their own efforts and them making an attempt to try, before you rush in to assist. Children need to be allowed to make mistakes. A child who is secure in the knowledge that their parents are there to help when needed, is someone who will try new things without undue fear of failure. Children develop coping skills by attempting new tasks and developing new skills. Remember to say to your child, ‘I know you can try it, go ahead. I'm here to help if you need me.’ Do not discourage your child by telling them something is too hard for them before they have given it a go. It is the job of parents to foster attempts at success, not to insure instant accomplishment.”

 

Feed Their Minds

“The best and most important ‘brain food’ is water, along with a reasonably healthy diet containing of fruit, vegetables and fish. Make sure your kitchen is stocked with a variety of healthy food options, but don't be obsessive about restricting sweets. A little treat now and then will not harm you child and it is better for them to learn how to control the intake of sweets, rather than being forced to avoid them. Forbidden fruit is sweetest, keep that in mind.”

 

Spot the Signifiers

“Children who struggle will show you signs of their difficulty. They may be irritable or downcast. They may look sad or constantly upset. They may have sleep difficulties or withdraw into themselves and not want to do the things they used to find pleasurable. Often a teacher will notice the early warning signs of a struggling child as their memory might become faulty, or their attention span and concentration may be impaired. The child may not be as active or engaged in lessons as they previously were. It may be a sport coach who notices a difference in the child's activity level. It’s important to realise that all children may show some of these signs from time to time, but when any one of these, or a combination of them, lasts for several weeks that we should be concerned.”

 

Look for Help

“There are many places one can go for help, but the first port of call is usually the family GP as they will be able to guide you to the right resources. When there, be sure to provide a lot of information from the child's teacher. Additionally there are lots of help lines and parent support groups available. Several examples come to mind; such as Down Syndrome Ireland, HADD and Tourette's Syndrome Ireland, these are excellent services. Parents may want to look at the Special Education Support Service helpline (sess.ie), which contains numerous helpful articles. Caution is needed here though, so don’t rush into a Google search, because you will often find information that frightens you or, ever worse, inaccurate material.”

Catherine Devane