Heading back to school is an exciting time for you and your child. As you prep for this busy time of year, it’s important to consider your child’s emotional well-being and mental health. Children may have feelings like nervousness and curiosity as they start a brand new school year. They may be eager to learn, meet their teacher, and make new friends.
A big change such as starting school for the first time or returning back to an academic routine can also cause stress. It’s just as important to support your child during moments of disappointment, sadness, and frustration in the same way you celebrate moments of pride and success.
As your child learns to navigate his/her new surroundings, they may look to you for encouragement, reassurance, and comfort as they’re likely to have new experiences, which come with unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable feelings.
So, how do you teach coping skills to your children?
Here are five ways to support your child’s mental health that you can use anytime, and that can help both you and your child practice healthy coping methods and build resilience.
5 ways to support your child's mental health
Use logic to make sense of emotions.
Tantrums, outbursts, and meltdowns are all normal for children as they attempt to navigate difficult and unfamiliar emotions. As their parent, it’s your job to help make sense of these feelings with them. First, practice empathy. Start with using phrases like, “I see that you are sad," and, "I’m sorry you feel hurt.” This lets them know that you acknowledge that they are upset and that feeling that way is totally okay. It might be difficult, but it’s important that you keep your cool. As your child begins to calm down, you can start to ask them what made them feel upset. Taking unfamiliar and complex emotions and putting them into words they can understand is a healthy and valuable coping skill for children that they’ll use throughout their life.
Encourage them to share their story.
When your child experiences uncomfortable emotions, you can help them cope by encouraging them to express themselves, rather than ignoring the situations that make them feel upset. For example, your child might be upset because they were left out of a game at recess. You can ask them questions like, “When did you realize that you weren’t going to play the game this time? How did you feel when you weren’t included?” Learning how to talk about unpleasant emotions can be difficult at any age, but encouraging your child to express his/her thoughts and feelings can help them cope better with difficult situations that can arise in daily life.
Explain that feelings aren’t permanent.
Feelings can be pleasant or unpleasant, and they come and go. However, emotions can be all-encompassing for children. Explaining to them that their feelings will pass will help them not to feel so overwhelmed. Let them know that it’s okay to be curious about their feelings, to acknowledge them, and to talk about them. In time, your child will learn that feelings don’t last forever.
Don’t be afraid to explain your behavior.
Parenting is a hard job! Don’t discount how hard you are working to do the right thing. It’s normal to have slip-ups and lose your cool. What’s important is that you acknowledge your shortcomings to your children, especially when it comes to your own outbursts in response to feelings of disappointment, anger, and frustration. It shows them that you’re human, just like them, and that it’s okay to have your feelings. Use phrases like, “I’m sorry I lost my temper. I was upset because…” or “I lost my temper because…” rather than you-statements that can make your child feel guilt or shame. Taking responsibility for your behavior is a great way to model what’s appropriate and what isn’t to your children. After all, they look to you for guidance!
Acknowledge your own triggers.
You are doing the best you can, but everyone makes mistakes. Take a moment to ask yourself if your response to your child’s behavior stems from your own unresolved trauma or negative experiences in childhood. Our life experiences influence our behavior, and as a parent, understanding your own triggers can help you better cope with emotional outbursts as they arise. Sometimes, it isn’t your child’s behavior that is causing you to be upset, but rather your own experiences that are triggering you. Begin by separating your experience from your child’s experience. Acknowledge that they are independent of each other and that it’s your job to help your child cope, not to saddle them with your own negative feelings or experiences.
As children grow, their mind grows with them. Feelings that are overwhelming now often don't remain that way. Your job as a parent is to be a reliable source of support and comfort when those feelings become more than your child can handle. Supporting your child’s mental health can be as simple as acknowledging their feelings and helping them put their experiences to words.
Therapy is beneficial at any age. If you think you and your child could benefit from attending therapy, we are here to help. Our counseling center in Kissimmee offers family and child therapy. We have counseling centers in Central Florida and Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can make an appointment and see more of the services we offer here.