Mental health has been a hot topic in our communities in recent years, especially as we’ve grappled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adults and children have experienced new stresses and challenges, changing routines and family dynamics, and even trauma. They also haven’t been able to access their usual outlets, including time with friends and extended family and extracurricular activities.
Just as we care for our physical health for our overall well-being, we must also prioritize our mental health. When we take good care of our bodies, we can sleep better and give our mind the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. When we take good care of our mental health, we can reduce aches, pains and digestive issues, which helps us feel better physically. When our minds are healthy and strong, we are more resilient to life’s challenges, able to use healthy coping methods, have better relationships, maintain our overall health and well-being, and prevent chronic illnesses.
Mental health should be a daily priority, woven into your families’ regular routines. Here are five ways you can help your family prioritize and maintain a healthy mind and build resiliency.
As we return to school, it is important for us all to continue to focus on our physical, emotional, and mental well-being and to work on strategies for helping ourselves and others build resilience, connectedness, and life skills.
1. Be aware
Knowing what’s going on in your child’s life and monitoring any big changes they are going through socially, academically, emotionally or physically can help you be more engaged in supporting their mental health and addressing any challenges as they arise.
2. Talk openly with your child
Be sure to have regular family conversations about how everyone is feeling and what they think about current events, the school day and any family news. Talk through your children’s feelings or concerns, things happening at school and with friends or how current events are impacting them. Share your own feelings and challenges too.
These conversations will help you learn how your child is doing emotionally, builds their ability to cope with life’s stresses and shows them that their feelings matter. It also helps them understand that they are not alone—you sometimes struggle too. Over time, this builds trust, and your child will realize they are loved and supported.
3. Model good mental health behavior
Children learn from watching their parents. If they see you prioritizing your mental and physical health; maintaining healthy, meaningful relationships; and practicing healthy coping strategies every day, they are more likely to do it, too. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect! Admitting when you are struggling is incredibly valuable for your children to see as well.
4. Prioritize a healthy lifestyle
Small changes can make a big difference, and it’s never too late to commit to having a healthy mind and body. Maintain your family’s mental health and well-being by eating meals together, exercising regularly, limiting screen time, getting the recommended amount of sleep each night, managing your stress, and finding which relaxation techniques work for your family and practicing them together.
5. Speak up for your child
You can make sure that your child is safe and supported at home. But it’s also important that your child’s environment outside of your home supports their good mental health. You can speak up for your child by going to your PTA, your school leadership and school- or community-based organizations to make sure your child’s school is welcoming, safe and connected. You also want to ensure that your child’s healthcare team routinely screens for mental health and wellness, listens to your child and to you, and communicates openly and effectively.
Making mental health a daily priority is critical to our overall well-being and to children’s long-term success. By helping our children maintain a healthy mind, we can ensure they have the support they need to thrive.