How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children
According to Katie Bassett who handles public relations for Safer-America, a consumer advocacy group that provides public safety awareness information, it is estimated that one in every five children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness.
It seems as though everyone suffers from some form of mental health problem these days—even I have struggled with depression at various points in my life. So with these findings and statistics, what can we as parents do to go against the odds and help our children be emotionally and mentally healthy?
It's common sense that when we nurture and physically care for our babies from the moment of conception, their brains will properly form and develop. Read more about that here.
So from the moment they are conceived, we have a responsibility as parents to physically care for our children so that their brains develop properly, which will help them later in life with their mental health.
But what can we do for them as they grow older to make sure we are meeting their emotional needs, and giving them the tools they need to be mentally healthy?
As the world moves in the direction of distractions, self-gratification, and instant results, parents are becoming unaware of their children's needs, and more aware of their the contents of our smartphones.
On that same note, parents are also allowing unlimited and unmonitored screen time for their kids, which exposes them to violence, and a myriad of age-inappropriate content. Read more about mental illness in correlations to screen time here.
When parents are unaware of what their children are being influenced by, how can they appropriately help their children process what they’ve seen or experienced? They can’t.
Your children WILL be influenced by something, whether that's you, the television, their friends, or their teachers.
So let their primary influence come from you—the people God placed in their life to love and protect them, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
In a world faced with more teen suicide than ever before, we need to act, and not react to our children's needs. We need to stay alert as to what our children are being exposed to, as well as create an environment for them to thrive in.
Parents are becoming helpless when it comes to knowing what our children truly need. But guess what? We are not helpless. It’s time we understand our influence on our children, and make sure we are doing everything we can to equip them to succeed mentally and emotionally.
These are my personal opinions on matters of childrearing, but it doesn't mean I'm always right! First and foremost, you should figure out what is best for you and your children. These are ideas based on what worked for our family. If you think your child has mental health issues, please seek professional help.
7 tips to give your child what they need emotionally and mentally
Have a Healthy Marriage and a Healthy You
Many people believe that mentally healthy children come from healthy families, and mentally ill people are a result of broken families, with abuse, drugs, or alcohol as a common denominator. As there are certain exceptions, it makes sense that when a child’s environment is healthy, they will be healthy.
That being said, giving your child what they need emotionally has a lot to do with the health of your marriage AND the health of you as an individual. Whatever you need to do to have that, do it.
If your marriage is struggling, go to counseling. If you’re struggling with depression or other mental health problems, go to counseling and do the work necessary to grow personally and invest in your marriage, not only for yourself but for the well-being of your child.
You cannot model healthy for your child if you and your marriage is not healthy.
2. Stay up to date and aware of what’s happening in the world and monitor what your kids are being exposed to
Sticking your head in the sand won't do you any good when it comes to raising mentally healthy children. What you don't know can't hurt you? Actually, yes, it can.
Here is a great resource to stay aware of social and cultural things that kids deal with in today's world.
Staying informed is among the most important when it comes to things your kids are doing; video games, social media, current bullying problems, societal behaviors, etc.
If you're not able to identify with what they face at school or hanging out with friends, then you won't be able to understand how to help them.
With this knowledge, you can stay proactive and one step ahead of things, instead of trying to pick up the pieces.
We can't protect them from everything, but we can do our part by knowing what they will face in the world that they are growing up in.
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3. Attend to their hearts and not their behavior
I’ve written a few articles that go a bit more in-depth on this subject.
When you only tend or address wrong behavior from your child, then you assume that why they misbehaved was "just because."
Sometimes, misbehavior from children is, in fact, "just because."
But for us to know that we have to take the initiative and ask them questions that will help us understand why they did what they did.
If we can understand the why, we can help them confront their feelings, and teach them what to do with those that are negative.
Let's say your child was playing with their friend at the park, just the two of them. Then, another child that their friend knew also wanted to play.
Your child then withdraws and feels intimidated by the new kid. In response to their intimidation or jealousy, they act out and say something mean to their friend.
A typical response would be, you would address the behavior of your child, ask them to take responsibility for the hurt they caused their friend, and be on your way.
But what would you be missing? Perhaps you might miss helping them to identify their feelings of jealousy or intimidation.
So to do this, you have to ask them—perhaps at a later time—why they did what they did, and guide them through a process of recognition and repentance, not guilt and shame.
Tell them it's perfectly normal to feel that way, and that you understand. But at the same time, point them to the fact that acting on their feelings caused hurt, not only to their friend but also to themselves.
Help them see that if they act upon their feelings of jealousy, it can affect their hearts, cause bitterness, and make them miserable.
These are the opportunities we have to take to help them know what to do with their negative feelings when they occur.
It’s with these conversations and moments that you can truly understand who your child is, where they are coming from, which is, in essence, showing them empathy.
4. Make them do chores, set rules, and give consequences
“Research from a well-known 75-year Harvard study examined the childhood psychosocial variables and biological processes that predicted health and well-being later in life.
Researchers concluded that kids who had chores fared better later in life. Chores were the best predictor of which kids were more likely to become happy, healthy, independent adults.” says this article on why giving your child chores is beneficial.
If you need a little motivation, we’ve been using this chart to help our son record what he has and hasn’t done yet. In order for him to get screen time on the weekends, he has to have filled his chore chart. We also give a monetary reward for his chores.
5. Make sure it’s astoundingly clear to your children that they can share their heart with you — the good, the bad, and the ugly
We can't expect our children to be transparent with us when we aren't open and honest with them.
Connect with your children on a human level.
Ask them questions about their day, and tell them about yours. Involve them in the difficult decisions you had to make at work.
Tell them you got angry while driving and did something you shouldn't have and took responsibility for it—include them in your life so that they can learn from you.
But again, it all goes back to you. Are you healthy? Are you honest, and do you have integrity?
Model for your children the characteristics that embody a healthy person.
6. Get them into nature and exercise regularly
What’s happening in todays culture with video games is that children can create their own reality. With games like Minecraft, or RoadBlox, the possibilities are endless.
Even though I let my son play these games, I don’t let him play very long. I want to instil in him the understanding that the reality and world he DOES live in, is more interesting and important.
While implementing this into our parenting, our son has learned how to carve wood (check out this wooden knife to get started), start fires, find treasures, start a rock collection, bug collection, go on extended and difficult hikes, swim in lakes, you name it. He LOVES nature, but it wasn’t a given. We had to make it possible for him to do that. This meant us getting in nature as a family. Check out 7 Things Healthy Families do Daily.
I’m not totally against video games. I don’t want to keep my child in a box and expect him to never want to do things that are popular today. I mean, if I had it my way, I would make him play outside ALL day every day. But that’s not what he wants.
So we have to come to an understanding. He has to earn his screen time, and being in nature is one of the things he has to check off his list.
7. Admit when you’re wrong and apologize
Allowing your child to feel what they need to feel, also comes the knowledge of teaching them that with big negative feelings, comes big responsibility.
We cannot control our child's feelings. If they are angry, they are angry—there nothing wrong with them feeling that. But it's going a step further to show them how to address their feelings, which is what we've talked about all along.
When it comes to admission of wrong, the most beneficial techniques I have seen in my son is to admit when I have wronged him.
If I am crabby and irritable with my son, I always apologize to him after the fact—this does a few things. It shows them that even as a parent—in their innocent eyes, parents are often perceived as perfect—you aren't perfect, and that's okay, while also modeling what humility is.
Humility is one of the most essential characteristics you could teach your child. It helps them arrive at gratitude, accept imperfection, and put others before themselves. In other words, it keeps them from turning into selfish little brats. And the best way to teach them humility is to model it yourself.
Admission of wrong is one thing, but going to extra mile to say, "I'm sorry I wronged you — you don't deserve that," is where they can, in turn, learn how to apologize to others.
In a world that is bringing up self-focused, narcissistic people, you can raise your children to be life-givers, happy, joyful, content, grateful people.
Helping them succeed in life doesn't mean teaching them to put all of their own needs and problems at the forefront of their minds—which is by popular belief nonsensical. But by teaching them to care for others, their problems won't seem so significant.
That doesn't mean disengaging from their issues and struggles, no. It means to help them to see the good in the bad of a situation, and direct them towards something positive.
Directing their minds towards what they DO have, instead of what they DON'T, will enable them to combat this narcissistic society of self that we live in today.
I will finish with this quote by my favorite apologist and speaker, Ravi Zacharias.