Children’s Mental Health Week: How parents can support their children’s emotional wellbeing

Children’s Mental Health Week 2022 runs from 7-13 February, as young people’s emotional wellbeing is at an all-time low.

According to Young Minds, one in six children aged five to 16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2020, up from one in nine in 2017.

SWL spoke to founder of Power Thoughts and wellbeing coach for children and parents Natalie Costa to find out how parents can support their children’s mental health.

Costa, 39, said: “We’re sitting in a mental health crisis at the moment because we’re not taught habits that support our mental and emotional wellbeing from a young age.

“The pandemic has meant the last few years have been defined by inconsistency and change so it’s no wonder that a lot of children have been feeling anxious.”

EMPOWERING: Costa set up Power Thoughts to teach children how to understand their minds. Photo credit: Natalie Costa

The emotional hub of a child’s brain is far more developed than their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for logical thinking and managing emotions.

This means children are often overwhelmed by their emotions as they are unable to rationalise them as an adult would.

Costa advised parents to normalise their children experiencing difficult feelings such as anger and worry rather than avoiding discussion of them.

She explained: “Sometimes, with the best of intentions, parents will say things like “toughen up” or “don’t cry”, but the worst thing anyone can do to us is tell us that our feelings aren’t valid.

“The more we can meet our children with empathy and try to understand their feelings in that moment, the better we can support them to manage their emotions effectively.”

She added: “We need to let our children know that they’re not weak or soft for feeling a certain way and that feelings are just visitors as they come and go.”

Making mistakes is integral to getting better at any skill but some children can find this difficult to understand and failure can feel dejecting for them.

The fear of making errors can lead to children placing their worth on achievements like exam results, putting them at risk of perfectionism which studies have associated with depression.

Situational factors have a big impact on how a child responds to setbacks, with their home environment among these. 

Costa explained: “Sometimes pressure on academic performance can come from well-intentioned parents, especially when they might not have had the same opportunities as their children and try to live through them.

“With the utmost compassion, take a proper look in the mirror, and if this pressure is coming from you, forgive yourself, but then start to normalise making mistakes and conversations around getting things wrong.”

It’s also important for parents to model resilience.

Costa said: ”If your children see you beating yourself up over failure, chances are they’re going to do the same because kids model what they see.

“We want them to be compassionate with themselves so we need to practice self-compassion too.”

Figures from Sport England showed that only 44.6% of children were active for the recommended 60 minutes each day during the 2020/2021 academic year.

However, research has shown that young people who partake in regular exercise are typically happier and display less depressive symptoms. 

Physical activity relieves stress and boosts levels of self-esteem through releasing endorphins, commonly known as the ‘feel-good hormones’.

Costa explained: “Movement is great for kids as it helps them to remove overwhelming feelings.

“It’s something I recommend to parents a lot.”

Even a gentle walk outdoors can massively benefit a child’s emotional wellbeing. 

The 2018/2019 Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey found that 89% of children felt calm and relaxed after spending time in nature.

Costa suggested parents turn being outdoors into a game by doing a scavenger hunt or seeing how many different creatures their children can spot.

Her last piece of advice was for parents to treat making these improvements as a learning process and to take care of themselves.

She said: “Looking after your own mental health as a parent is just as important as taking care of your child’s.

“Parenting is the hardest job there is because there’s no manual or rule book to teach you how to do it. 

“Recognising that you’re not going to have all the answers and that you’re learning too is really important.”

To learn more about children’s mental health, visit Young Minds’ website.

Featured image credit: Pexels via Pixabay

Related Articles