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10 Ways to Support Kids’ Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a good opportunity to reflect on our children’s mental health.

Studies are showing the pandemic has increased the number of children struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. A recent survey of high school students across the nation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 37% had experienced poor mental health, and 44% reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year. Sadly, 20% said they had seriously considered attempting suicide.

Even before the COVID-19 virus came on the scene, however, mental health needs were growing in Hampton Roads and across the country.

Children need our support, and parents play an important role in helping their children build positive mental health and resiliency. The American Psychological Association suggests the following tips for parents to help build resilient children and teens.

  1. Make connections. Teach your child the importance of engaging and connecting with their peers, including the skill of empathy and listening to others. Find ways to help children foster connectivity by suggesting they connect to peers in person or through phone, video chats, and texts. It’s also important to build a strong family network.
  2. Empower your child to help others. Children who may feel helpless can feel empowered by helping others. Engage your child in age-appropriate volunteer work or ask for assistance yourself with tasks that they can master. Brainstorm with your children ways they can help others in their class or in grades below.
  3. Maintain a daily routine. Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children, especially younger children who crave structure in their lives. Work with your child to develop a routine, and highlight times that are for school, work, and play. You might need to be flexible with some routines, particularly during times of distress or transition. At the same time, schedules and consistency are important to maintain.
  4. Take a break. While some anxiety can motivate us to take positive action, we also need to validate all feelings. Teach your child how to focus on something that they can control or can act on. Help by challenging unrealistic thinking by asking them to examine the chances of the worst-case scenario and what they might tell a friend who has those worries. Reduce or eliminate troubling TV and social media for you and your children, and be mindful of adult conversations in front of children.
  5. Teach your child self-care. Teach your child the importance of basic self-care. This may be making more time to eat properly, exercise, and get sufficient sleep. Make sure your child has time to have fun and participate in activities they enjoy. Caring for oneself and even having fun will help children stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.
  6. Move toward your goals. Teach your child to set reasonable goals and to move toward them one step at a time. Establishing goals will help children focus on a specific task and can build the resilience to move forward in the face of challenges.
  7. Nurture a positive self-view. Remind your child of ways they have successfully handled hardships in the past and help them understand that these past challenges build the strength to handle future challenges. Encourage your child to trust themselves to solve problems and make appropriate decisions.
  8. Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook. Even when your child is facing very painful events, help them look at the situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Although your child may be too young to consider a long-term look on their own, help them see that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be good.
  9. Look for opportunities for self-discovery. Tough times are often when children learn the most about themselves. Help your child take a look at how whatever they’re facing can teach them “what am I made of.”
  10. Accept change. Change can often be scary for children and teens. Help your child see that change is part of life and new goals can replace goals that have become unattainable. It is important to examine what is going well and to have a plan of action for what is not going well.

If your child is experiencing a mental health emergency, please proceed to the closest emergency room. If you have general mental health questions, please click here or call 757-668-HOPE (4673).

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