Time for Kids: How to meet your child’s mental wellness needs
MADISON, Wis. — If someone were to ask you what your child’s basic needs are, how would you respond? There’s no doubt many parents would identify things such as food, shelter and sleep. But mental health can be just as important as physical health, meaning everyone has emotional needs, even though they are usually less obvious.
Mental Health America identifies six basic needs for a child’s positive mental health:
Unconditional love from family
Safe and secure surroundings
Self-confidence and high self-esteem
The opportunity to play with other children
Appropriate guidance and discipline
A loving, safe home
This should be at the heart of every household. Children need to know that a parent’s love is genuine and long-lasting. It should be seen as deep-rooted, and not dependent on accomplishments or behaviors.
Furthermore, kids need to feel safe and secure. They will experience fear and anxiety at times, such as following a stressful incident at school. Being able to go to a safe home will help a child handle the matter more easily.
“Both of these things can lead to tremendous benefits in the long run,” says SSM Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Diana Flint. “When a child feels safe and loved, they’re more likely to develop social connections and succeed in school.”
Much of a child’s self-esteem can be built from the cues they receive from their parents. At an early age and beyond, praise can be quite meaningful. Just imagine a baby’s first steps or a child’s first time riding a bike without training wheels — these events are usually marked by joy from both child and mom and dad. The praise received can give a child more confidence to take more steps, or climb back on that bike.
Mistakes and failures can give anyone’s self-esteem a hit. They shouldn’t be ignored, but rather accepted as bumps in the road. Your child will learn over time that no one is perfect. You can teach them this by being honest about your own failures. It’s reassuring for a child to know that everyone, even an adult, can make mistakes.
Lastly, be mindful of how you speak to your child during the ups and downs.
“Sarcasm should be avoided by parents and adults because kids can take sarcastic comments much more literally,” Flint said. “It’s bound to cause misunderstanding, disconnect or even anxiety.”
Feeling comfortable outside the home
Obviously, your child’s mental health will also be shaped by experiences outside the home. These aren’t 100-percent outside of your control, though. Try to enroll your kids in a school or programs that allow abundant opportunities to be with other children. Play time is one of the most important times in a child’s development.
“A lot of playing is simply social interaction,” Flint noted. “There are so many tiny interactions through things like facial expressions that happen between kids that help them socially develop.”
Kids will also greatly benefit from a network of supportive adults. Encouraging and caring teachers will boost mental health, just as parents can. This stresses the importance of communicating with the people who interact with your child on a daily basis.
Guidance and discipline
While giving children independence and the freedom to explore new things is a plus, they need to know there are limitations. That’s where your role as a parent comes in. They look to you for guidance on what is acceptable behavior. It’ll help them develop social skills that can last a lifetime.
When discipline is needed, it’s best to be firm, realistic and kind.
“Be specific on why you’re disciplining them, and what the action is that you’re disciplining them for,” Flint said. “For example, use language like ‘the thing you did was bad’ rather than ‘you are a bad child.”
The overarching theme through all of these recommendations is conversation. Keep talking to your child and to those close to them. It could help them in ways you may never even realize, and get them on the right track to a happy, mentally healthy life.
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