Sound mental health of children has become very important in today’s world where they have to live amidst constant changes. Even as they grow up, they will have to face continuous pressure from ever changing technologies, newer work-streams and challenging situations which no one would have faced before. To prepare children for such a future and to ensure that they are able to deal with the tough challenges that await them, it is very important that they have good mental health and are able to cope with any situation that life might throw at them.
Even today, as per WHO, 10-20% children worldwide experience mental disorders. That means out of every 10 children, 1 or 2 might be suffering from mental health issues.
Developing Mental Health
Things that can help in keeping children mentally healthy, in their childhood and also give them a strong mental foundation to help them cope with tough situations in future.
Health is a basic foundation for physical and mental well-being. Regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, sleeping properly and keeping physically healthy is therefore the first step towards ensuring good mental health.
Connecting with Family
Spending time together as a family is extremely important towards ensuring stable mental health. Feeling loved, cared, understood and valued by a set of people goes a long way. In fact, good mental health starts in infancy itself. Research shows that a baby who doesn’t get to feel a healthy bond with a parent is more likely to develop mental health problems in future than a baby who develops strong connection with a person who cares for them.
Having a regular play time and freedom
Regular play time, activities, freedom to enjoy and play with friends indoors and outdoors also helps towards developing good mental health.
Teaching them healthy ways to manage stress
You cannot shield your child from all problems in life. In fact, you should not try to shield them from problems but teach them how to deal with stressful situations in a healthy manner, ensuring that they know that their family will always be there for them to help them out. Fights or disagreements with friends, failure in a test, not being chosen in a sports team could all be stressful situations for your child. For some, talking it over would help, for others writing in a journal would help, for yet others cycling or other physical exercise might help in de-stressing.
Developing a child’s self-esteem helps in boosting their mental health. You can help by offering realistic and genuine praise. Avoid exaggerated statements like ‘You are the most intelligent kid’ which might do more harm than good. Praise their efforts when they deserve it.
Helping them come out of Mental Blocks
A mental block is when a child says “I can never be good at football” or “I can never understand Maths”. Help them deal with mental blocks through dialogue. Instead of saying “I think you are very good” or “Of course not. I think you will be great.”, try and make the child make the assessment by proper questioning. “What are the skills that a good footballer needs?”. “Which of these do you have and which are the ones that you don’t?”. “How can you develop these skills? Do you need some help for that?”
Red Flags and Warning Signs
Some warning signs include:
- Persistent sadness
- Low energy
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Engaging in self-harm behaviors
- Avoiding social interactions and spending more time alone
- Frequent headaches or stomach-aches with no known medical cause
- Talking about death or suicide
- Sudden outbursts
- Drastic changes in mood or behavior
- Have frequent tantrums and extreme irritability
- Changes in academic performance
It is estimated that only 21% of the children with mental health issues who need some help actually go to a doctor. If the above behaviors last for a while, and if you are concerned about your child’s mental health, first share your concerns with the teacher and pediatrician. The pediatrician will then refer to a mental health professional if required. The sooner you get help if it is required, the better it will be for your child.
Most important however, is to build a conducive, safe and healthy environment at home.