Parents, there’s a youth mental health crisis taking place right now. Our youth are stressed, anxious, depressed and struggling. Emergency room visits for suicide attempts have increased dramatically, families are struggling and it’s scary.
Have you been wondering what you can do to help your young kids be mentally healthy, so they don’t face significant mental health challenges when they are in middle school, high school and beyond? As a parent, I think about this a lot. I am not sure if you’re like me, but when one of my kids struggles with anxiety, stress or social issues like bullying, it’s so hard; much harder than when they were little and skinned a knee.
As a mother of three working in character education for the past decade, I recommend these six simple concepts you can teach your kids – starting as young as age 3! – to set them on a mentally healthy path.
PRACTICE GRATITUDE EVERY DAY
It sounds easy (because it is), but it’s also easy to forget to do this when you get busy. Start a new habit to include gratitude in one part of your daily routine. It can be as simple as going around the table at breakfast or dinner and asking each person to share something they are grateful for, or adding one step to your bedtime routine to talk about what you were grateful for that day. You can make a gratitude jar (use a plain cup if you aren’t crafty) to fill with one strip of paper at a time, listing things, people and experiences for which you are thankful. Creating a gratitude paper chain is a good activity to start on a rainy day!
USE POSITIVE SELF-TALK
Remind your kids often that kindness to self is just as important as kindness to others. It’s natural for kids to have negative thoughts, but sometimes those thoughts get stuck and turn into them being very hard on themselves. Helping them recognize negative self-talk and giving them the tools to address those negative thoughts will strengthen their confidence, self-awareness and ability to think before reacting. Check out this free printable “Helping Children Challenge Negative Thinking” for some easy activities you can do at home with your child.
DEMONSTRATE HEALTHLY COPING SKILLS
Lead by example, and show your child how you personally cope with stress in healthy ways, like going for a walk, exercising, deep breathing, meeting friends… Share with them about how you sometimes need a minute to regroup so you can respond thoughtfully, and together explore different ways to calm down. A couple of my favorites for young kids are to make a mindfulness jar or practice 4, 7, 8 breathing.
Volunteering is often recommended by therapists and counselors as it’s medically proven to benefit the volunteer. Volunteering helps you meaningfully connect to others, gets you out of your own mind, and can often remind you of all that you have to be thankful for in life. You can volunteer from home by writing cards to troops, raking a neighbor’s yard, doing a trash pick-up or planting wildflowers for bees. With a little research, you can find more opportunities in your own community to volunteer, including taking part in the Inside Out Club.
COMPLETE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
Random acts of kindness can be big, small, and everywhere in between! Some ideas for you and your kids might be texting someone in your family to tell them how much they mean to you, writing cards to friends, making sidewalk chalk art to bring joy to your neighbors, buying someone a coffee, or helping around the house.
NORMALIZE MENTAL HEALTH
Ask your child which is more important – mental health or physical health – then share that they are actually equally important. Explain to them that just like you go to the doctor if you break your arm, if you are struggling with your thoughts and emotions so much that it is impacting your day-to-day life, you get help for that, too. Let them know they can always talk to you, and/or suggest another trusted adult they can turn to.
I challenge you to implement one of these six strategies today, and hope these tools help you and your loved ones continue to work on being mentally healthy.
Please note that I am not a medical professional. If you need medical advice or help, reach out to a medical professional in your life.