Coping with your child’s ups and downs

Coping with your child’s ups and downs
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As a parent, you’ve seen your child get sad, down or irritated. It’s normal. But it’s not always easy to respond to. You might not know what to say or when to say it. But don’t give up — there are things you can do to help your child’s mental health and well-being.

Getting back to the basics

How we take care of our physical health has a huge connection to our mental health. Adequate sleep, a healthy diet and physical exercise are really the foundations of mental well-being.

“However, these components can often be easily overlooked when we think about mental health,” SSM Health Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Britt Coolman said. “So it is important to take a ‘back-to-basics’ approach and make sure to put physical health as a priority when we are noticing difficulty with our mood.”

Britt said exercise alone can be one of the best natural mood boosters and stress relievers. In addition, putting an emphasis on getting better sleep and having a consistent sleep schedule can significantly reduce anxious and depressed moods.

The power of validation

If your child is experiencing negative moods, one of the most important things you can do is provide validation for how they’re feeling and let them know you are there for them.

“Validation is a hugely powerful skill,” Britt said. “It lets your child know that you accept their thoughts and feelings, and can actually help them regulate their own emotions as well as develop a secure sense of self.”

When utilizing validation we suspend our own judgment, interpretation, and desire to “fix the problem” for our children. Instead, we reflect back what we hear the child saying, provide empathy and normalize their feelings. This approach does not feel natural at first, but over time, it can allow children to develop healthy coping skills to deal with their feelings.

What if my child doesn’t bounce back?

If negative feelings persist and don’t seem to get better over time, it may be a good idea to consult a professional. Your child’s primary care physician can be a good place to start; they can help you determine if an evaluation by a mental health professional is needed.

Oftentimes parents worry that bringing their child to a therapist will cause their child to feel that something is “wrong” with them. However, parents have some control in that.

“How parents act towards the appointment is really the biggest predictor in how a child will interpret it,” Britt said. “Explaining what a child can expect and that a therapist’s job is to provide tools to feel better can help them feel more prepared for the appointment.”