Last night I spoke at a Mental Health Awareness event for 100 parents. The gathering was arranged to mark World Mental Health Day, and increase understanding of how to be mentally healthy.
Here are the four suggestions I shared with them and would like to give you too:
Be interested in your child’s experiences. Imagine and reflect on this simple but profound question:
“ What is is it like being her or him? What is it REALLY like?”
Stand in their shoes and reflect on what their home and school life is like right now on an emotional level. For example, is it fun, stressful, overwhelming? Are they worried or tired, calm or confident? Is there any small change that might make a difference to them?
Practice the art of showing your child that you accept them for who they are. This enables them to feel confident in themselves. Each child develops at their own rate- delighting in them as they are now, rather than wanting them to be different, is a huge gift to your child AND builds their mental health.
RECOGNITION of feelings
Making sense of and learning to regulate strong emotions is a major task of childhood, which we as parents need to play an active role in. Naming what you think your child may be feeling will expand their understanding of themselves. For example, say out loud, “ I can imagine you might be really tired now (or fed up, frustrated, upset etc.) Your child may know they are not feeling ok but find it hard to verbalise. Ask less questions as children don’t always know what they are feeling! Your attempts to name their feelings, even if they disagree, is a key way of developing their self-knowledge and mental health.
EMPATHY and ENGAGEMENT
The process of standing in your child’s shoes is how we empathise and engage with them. It shows them how interested we are and that we care. It will help your child feel loved and understood. Of course we get it wrong sometimes but we need to keep trying.
NB In order to CARE for your child, you need someone to CARE for you! It is really hard work being a parent.
Who can you reach out to and ask for support or care? If no one comes to mind, don’t give up. Be courageous in asking someone to listen to you and support you, whether family or friends, GP or friendly local drop-in communities.
CARE really matters for our mental health.