Mental health is the way children think and feel about themselves and the world around them. Good mental health is an important part of healthy child development as it affects how children cope with life’s challenges and stresses. Parents play an important part in supporting and encouraging a child's good mental health habits.
Here are 8 healthy habits you can teach your children to improve their mental wellbeing and give them the tools they need to flourish and grow.
1. Encourage physical activity
Regular exercise is not only important for physical health; it has a significant impact on mental health, too. As well as maintaining strength, fitness and a healthy weight, exercise improves sleep, mood, self-confidence and social skills. Experts recommend that children get 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. Fun family activities like kicking a ball around, going on a bike ride, having a dance party, doing yoga in the park, going for a swim, or just walking to the shops instead of driving are easy ways to get kids moving. Research also shows that taking part in team sports has a positive effect on mental health and can boost their self-confidence.
2. Help develop their self-esteem
Children seek validation. Providing genuine, realistic praise for their efforts can help children develop healthy self-esteem and confidence. Use a positive, constructive and consistent approach to guide your child’s behaviour. This means giving your child praise and attention when they behave well, rather than negative consequences when they behave in challenging ways.
3. Teach ways to manage stress
Stress is part and parcel of life. That’s why it’s important to teach your child techniques to deal with it. Show your child healthy ways to cope with stress by proactively identifying positive ways to handle it, such as breathing exercise, taking a walk, listening to calm music, yoga, reading or journaling.
4. Encourage social connections
Encourage your child to create a network of people at school, in the community, and among neighbours and family. Mental health experts recommend that for every hour of online connections, kids need 30 minutes of face-to-face connections. That means balancing online video games with sending them outdoors to play with friends in the neighbourhood.
5. Play together
Studies have shown that engaging in healthy play together can benefit children in a number of ways. Take time to put aside work and chores, and focus solely on your child. Laughing and playing together are great stress relievers for you and your child. While playing with your child, you’ll not only strengthen your relationship and bond, but you’ll probably find yourself having fun too. Seeing a parent let go of worries can assure children that they can do that as well.
6. Teach good sleeping habits
A good night’s sleep is hugely important for our mental wellbeing - and that’s especially true for children too. Getting an adequate night’s sleep can improve their concentration, energy levels and frame of mind. Help them on their way to better sleep with a bedtime routine. Encourage them to go to sleep at the same time each night, even on weekends and the holidays. Teach them how to unwind their mind and get ready for bed. Banish screens an hour before bedtime, and make it a habit to wind down with a good book or warm bath.
7. Impart routines
Children thrive on routine. A consistent routine allows them to feel safe, secure, and in control of their environment. Have a routine for everything - from waking, eating, learning, exercising, playing and homework to going to bed - so they have a clear schedule to follow.
8. Be a good role model
Children learn by watching their parents. Lead by example. The most effective way you can encourage positive mental health habits in children is by practicing these habits yourself. Set a good example for your children by eating healthily, exercising regularly and practising relaxation techniques.