Why Teach Kids About Mental Health?
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Nothing will make a child roll their eyes faster than when a parent starts a story with “When I was your age…” We talk with longing of a simpler time and express to them how the world was a better place.
We can do this without reservation, because the nostalgia we recall the past with isn’t that far misplaced. Times were simpler then, and the things that our children have to deal with now at younger ages are vastly more complicated than when we were their age.
Put simply, the world forces our children to confront more adult situations far sooner than we had to. The downside is that our children are no more equipped to handle these advanced stresses than we were at that same age. They do not have to tools to handle the situations because they haven’t had the experiences to build up that skill set.
Mental Health And Children
The job of any parent is to prepare our children for the world as best we can. One important, but often overlooked, way to prepare our children is to teach them how to handle the stresses and pressures of life. We need to address their mental health, because if we don’t do so now, we may put them at more risk later in life.
According to the American Psychological Association “one out of every five children in America has a diagnosable mental health disorder”.
Once we look past the stigma of the term “mental health” we can start to think about it in terms of the whole. The soundness of mind and body cannot be overlooked. Just as we teach children to eat a nutritious diet, exercise, and practice good hygiene to keep their bodies healthy, we need to teach them how to keep their minds healthy, as well.
Basic Self Care For Mental Health
When we teach children about mental health, we have to understand that we are not teaching them to diagnose disorders, or even look into their own heads to determine if they are at risk. Teaching kids about mental health can be very basic self care, enough to help ward off the mounting pressures of growing up in the modern era.
At the most basic level,we are preparing our kids for being able to handle the curveballs that life will throw at them. How to breathe through anger, engage in active listening, and engaging in positive self-talk can all be basic “low-impact” lessons in mental health that can serve children as young as kindergarten. These are simple things that can help in everyday moments and guide your student to better overall health.
According to the American Psychological Association, “Mental health problems and related disorders are associated with lower academic achievement, greater family distress and conflict, and poorer social functioning during childhood and into adulthood.”
Teaching Children About Mental Health
We teach our kids everything we can, not just enough to graduate and move on to college and a career, but the things in life that are not in a school book to keep them safe and prepare them to be better people. Why would we then ignore one facet of the whole?
We can raise strong young men and women who can excel on the athletic field, or go on to be academic power houses, but if we neglect their mental health have we really served them to the best of our ability?
Low impact social-emotional learning doesn’t need to be a set piece in your educational model. As little as an hour a week, focused on mental health and dealing with internal struggles could be enough for a low tier student. If there is call for more, then programs can scaled up as needed.
Ways To Focus On Mental Health At Home
- Listen to your child
- Encourage your child
- Focus on their strengths
- Teach your children words to express their emotions
- Model healthy behaviors
- Teach your child conflict management skills
- Allow your children to have ways to express themselves
- Read age appropriate mental health focused books and talk about them
Mental Health Books For Kids
- The Very Cranky Bear
- Sad Monster, Glad Monster
- Little Monkey Calms Down
- When My Worries Get Too Big
- It’s OK To Be Different
- Listening To My Body
- I Can Do Hard Things
Teaching a child about mental health is not setting the table for them to go on and have mental health difficulties. Teaching them is simply giving the student another tool in the box to help them best navigate the increasingly cluttered world in which we are rearing them. If we are to truly be the best parents and educators for our children we must make sure that we are attending to the whole child.
Mental Health Resources For Children
Mental health education doesn’t have to be a set lesson plan. You can meet a child’s basic mental health needs at home and thus teach them by example. Things like showing unconditional love, teach them to be confident and have a high self-esteem, make sure they have a safe environment, and be there to guide them through the struggles of life.
As children get older, you may want to formally teach them about mental health. The Health And Nutrition high school curriculum from Apologia does a great job teaching children about the importance of the health of the whole being. It has extensive lessons on social, emotional, and mental health. I also have a bunch of mental health articles and resources on a new Mental Health For Kids Pinterest board.
If you feel your child may have mental health issues and is not responding to self-care or a nurturing environment, do not hesitate to seek outside help. This may be from a counselor or therapist or just another trusted adult that the child may open up to and confide in.
Mental Health Warning Signs In Children
- Severe mood swings
- Intense feelings
- Drastic behavior changes
- Unexplained weight loss
- Substance abuse
- Harming themselves physically
- Becoming socially withdrawn
If your child was physically hurting, you would call a doctor and not think twice about it. The pain of failing mental health can be just as bad and can last a lifetime. Be proactive and understanding. Let kids know that mental health is important and should be worked on just as much as physical health.