Building the Skills for Good Mental Health in Kids

Categories: Mental Health

The importance of mental health for adults is an issue that’s gotten a lot of attention in recent years. It’s for a good reason too: Stigma, silence and misinformation about mental health issues can have some terrible consequences in our communities. But, even with this greater awareness around adult mental health, we’re still not talking that much about where it all begins: mental health in children.

We know that kids and teenagers are experiencing mental health issues at an alarmingly high rate. Beyond Blue reports that one in seven Australian children aged between 4 and 17 experience a mental health condition. What’s more, three in four adult mental health conditions emerge by age 24 and half by age 14. The evidence is clear.

But, what can we do about it?

Is there any way to build up our children’s capacities to help safeguard their mental health? 

Are there things we can do before it becomes an issue?

According to our ParentTV experts, the answers are: yes, and absolutely! Here’s just a few of their ideas:

Teaching mindfulness 

ParentTV expert and psychologist, Dr Jodie Lowinger, says that practicing mindfulness can be a really effective way of helping kids learn how to calm their brains when anxiety starts to intrude.

“When kids practice mindfulness, they learn how to notice worry thoughts without trying to tackle them, then bringing their minds back into the present. This helps them change their relationship with their thoughts.”

Dr Jodie Lowinger

When they can see their worries with a bit more calmness and objectivity, they’ll have more power over them and ability to challenge their own perceptions. This skill will make them well-placed to manage when their adult worries come calling.

WATCH: Reducing anxiety in kids with mindfulness and meditation 

Keeping communication lines open

To keep communication lines with your children open, it’s important that they know they can tell you anything without fear of recrimination. They may not always want to talk to you about what’s going on for them, but being available when they do broach a subject and listening without judgement is vital. This helps them learn that other people can be a source of comfort, guidance and help in times of trouble, and shows them that they don’t have to deal with things alone. This experience of receiving genuine assistance will encourage them to seek help if they need it later in life.

‘These conversations can be intimidating for kids, so I always suggest that parents keep them casual,’ Amanda from Kids Helpline says. You can try sitting next to them in the car to talk, or chatting when you’re unloading the dishwasher together.’ When your kids do talk to you, it’s important to be open and curious to facilitate problem-solving, Amanda says. You don’t always need to give advice, but you can always provide support. 

WATCH: How to talk to your child and get them to open up

Encouraging self-expression 

We talk a lot about communication and the importance of talking about feelings, but other forms of self-expression are important, too, ParentTV expert and Neurologic Music Therapist Allison Davies suggests. Not all kids are at ease with or capable of verbal communication, and expecting them to use their voice can sometimes be a big ask. But, there are other outlets available, and identifying one that lets your kids release some emotions can be really powerful.

“Finding an outlet for self-expression can help teach kids that they can move their emotions.”

Allison Davies

The aim is to give a release to pent-up feelings,’ Allison says. While Allison focuses mainly on music as an outlet, other physical activities like sports may also do the trick for your children. Whatever their preferred outlet, knowing a way to release their emotions will be hugely beneficial in any tricky times ahead.

WATCH: Using music to express emotion

Building their resilience

As parents, it can be tempting to smooth the way for our children to save them from disappointment, embarrassment, fear, pain or other big feelings. But, while there are valid considerations in this, it’s also important to let them learn from experience, feel the effects of things, recover and incorporate that knowledge into their thinking. This helps them to build resilience, a hugely important asset to mental health that’s an essential skill for any human. In fact, even the practical experience of getting hurt can offer a valuable lesson in resilience, says ParentTV expert Teacher Tom. ‘When you give kids the chance to take risks and challenge themselves, that’s when they grow.’

WATCH: 9 Ways to a Resilient Child Course

WATCH: How kids learn through their injuries

Facilitating a growth mindset

Dr Vanessa LaPointe, ParentTV expert and psychologist, suggests that a growth mindset is a powerful asset for all kids.

“A growth mindset is when your brain is trained to focus on possibilities and potential rather than feelings of negativity, hopelessness or being stuck.”

Dr Vanessa Lapointe

This helps kids to see themselves and their lives as a script that can be changed, with a belief in their own capacity to keep evolving, learning and growing, rather than seeing themselves, their circumstances and abilities as fixed. Cultivating a growth mindset will empower kids and give them the tools to create change as they need it later in life.

WATCH: What does growth mindset mean?