- What is mental health in simple words?
- What does good mental health look like?
- How to nurture a child's mental health
- How to explain mental health to a child
In general, as a society, we don’t really think about mental health for children all that much. Typically we only start considering it when it goes wrong and some physical or emotional problem shows up under the broad term “mental illness”.
What is mental health in simple words?
Mental health is about how we think, how we feel, and how we behave. The overall health and wellbeing of a child is very dependent on their mental health. Around one in six kids in the UK have mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or behaviour disorders.
Just as with physical, or “bodily” health, good and bad mental health for children is influenced by a whole variety of factors, some you can control and some you can’t. Getting help with child mental health problems can be a long, difficult and frustrating process. Taking care of the emotional well being of a child as they grow is easier than fixing issues down the road.
What does good mental health look like?
If you’re asking yourself “what is emotional well-being in a child?”, think about good mental health as kids being the most positive version of themselves rather than just being free of mental illness.
What is mental health for kids?
When it comes to factors for good mental health for kids, here are some good mental health examples to consider:
- Mentally healthy children achieve developmental milestones (such as learning to talk, to share, to help with the housework) in good time and reach their full potential
- They learn how to relate to and get on well with other people
- They like themselves, enjoy life, and are happy most of the time
- They are productive and contribute to their communities
- They make positive choices and are enthusiastic about challenges and trying new things
- They deal with stress, sadness, and anger well, solve their problems in a constructive way and recover from setbacks easily
How to nurture a child's mental health
The first step to creating good health and wellbeing in childhood is to ensure your kids have their essential needs met. On top of the basics like hydration, a healthy diet and warm clothes, strategies to support a child with mental health include allowing time and space to play, opportunities for exercise, and socialising. These are all crucial to improving the emotional well-being of a child.
At different stages of development, the factors for good mental health for kids can change. Fostering good mental health starts from birth. 🌻
Mental health definition for kids: Having a good relationship with you
The relationship between you and your child forms the basis of good mental health for life. A positive, trusting, and secure bond between parent and child is important to build a character strong enough to survive life’s highs and lows.
It may sound obvious, but holding and cuddling your baby is the first step on your child’s journey to good mental health. When you hold your child, their body and yours release powerful hormones which encourage bonding and feelings of safety and security, all important foundations for good self-esteem in later life. When they’re older, hugs and smiles can go a long way.
Giving a little one lots of praise and attention is important for future emotional well-being. Let them know that you love them no matter what happens. Even if they don’t understand your words, they will respond positively to your tone, body language, and attitude.
Set aside some time every day to have a good chat with your kid and catch up on everything happening in their lives. It’s important to ask them about their experiences at school. Children sometimes don’t tell you much about their day because they assume there’s a conspiracy between the teacher and their parents and you know everything that goes on in class anyway, either via Whatsapp or parent-teacher telepathy! You may have to coax the information out of them slowly.
How to explain mental health to a child
Don’t be afraid to talk with them about their feelings. Being open about feelings both positive and negative is important for positive mental health and it helps if kids learn to recognize and manage emotions early in life. Try to show understanding and let them know that it’s normal to experience a mix of emotions at different times and that it is an example of good mental health. However, let them know that we shouldn’t let our emotions control us and that we need to consider the feelings of other people too. This is a good way of explaining mental health to a child.
Mental health definition for kids: Building independence and self-reliance
As kids grow, it is important to allow them to try new things and explore their surroundings a bit more. This is the key to increasing self-confidence and positive mental health for children.
Let your child start taking care of themselves when they begin to assert their independence. Things like letting them feed themselves (despite the mess!), brush their own hair, or wash themselves are great ways to build self-confidence and self-esteem.
To encourage independence you can start offering your child a short list of options when it comes to things that affect them. For example give them the responsibility to make decisions by themselves about what to wear, what to eat or what order to do certain things in.
Start letting your kids help out with the housework. Let them try simple things like wiping the table, brushing the floor, or dusting. Even if they leave things dirtier than when they started, with some praise and patience they’ll soon learn to do better and both you and they will benefit in the long run.
Gently encourage them to try things that they might be apprehensive about. Learning to try new things is a skill that will open up many worlds for them and allow them to reach their full potential. Avoid reinforcing fears and phobias by giving in too quickly to reluctant behaviours.
Mental health definition for kids: Boosting self-esteem and self confidence
School can be a tough place for any kid and with the huge class sizes common these days it’s easy for children to get lost in the crowd. Acknowledging your child’s progress and achievements at school is critical for building good self-esteem.
Focus on the positive behaviour that led to the success rather than on natural talents or skills. It’s better, in the long run, to praise your child for working hard than for being naturally intelligent.
If your child is struggling academically, use kindness and empathy to help them overcome their challenges. Your child might also benefit from 1:1 tutoring. Book a free trial lesson with GoStudent today and give your child the extra support they need.
Begin actively discussing and agreeing small, achievable goals for your kid to work towards.
These don’t have to be related to school but can be things like skills they would like to learn or hobbies they are interested in pursuing. Such goal-setting can help them build a sense of achievement and learning to plan and work independently towards objectives creates strong mental health for children.
Mental health definition for kids: A healthy approach to discipline
When your child misbehaves, make sure they understand it is the behaviour that is unwanted, not them. It’s very easy to get angry at your kids, but they may believe such anger is directed at who they are rather than what they have done. On top of this, put the emphasis more on praising the desired actions than condemning the bad actions and show them what they are supposed to do next time.
Be clear in what is acceptable and what is not and enforce your rules consistently so your kid always knows where they stand. As they grow up you can remove or relax some of the rules. You could start a family tradition of officially lifting more restrictions every birthday!
Mental health definition for kids: Activities to exercise minds and bodies
Spending time with your child doing things they enjoy is another one of the important strategies to support a child with mental health.
Books, board games, puzzles, sports, music, arts and crafts are the perfect tools for developing healthy little minds. These activities help them learn about the world and about their own strengths and limitations.
All kids like to move and have loads of energy to burn off. Make sure they have time and a safe space to run, jump, climb and go a little bit crazy. Let them try new sports regularly until they find something they like. Good physical fitness is fundamental for good mental health.
For young kids, playtime is most effective when they’re bright-eyed and wide awake, they will be more able to learn and focus their attention on the activity. A tired or crabby kid will not appreciate demands to play.
Try not to treat TVs, tablets, phones, and other screen devices as free babysitters. The effects on children’s mental health of even short times spent on screens are still being studied and bear in mind that some of the most successful technology professionals send their kids to schools where tablets, phones, and laptops are basically banned until students enter their teenage years. It's best to reserve screen time for when it can really make a positive contribution to your child's development.
Mental health definition for kids: Curiosity that is encouraged
Kids can ask a thousand questions an hour and sometimes it can be hard to keep up with all their interrogations. However, it’s important to encourage this curiosity as it is an essential tool for them to build up an accurate picture of the world and work out how they fit into it.
If you don’t have time to answer everything in the moment, get them to write down their questions in a Big Book of Questions or record their ideas into your phone and make some time later to sit down together and go through their queries. Do some research online to find out if anyone has already answered their most difficult questions.
This is a great way to make your child feel like their interests matter and a very constructive and educational way for you to spend some quality time together. You can help them by turning the tables and routinely asking them lots of questions to get them thinking about things.
Mental health definition for kids: Strong socialisation skills
Early infancy sets the groundwork for positive lifelong socialisation patterns which are essential for good mental health.
Socialisation begins with simply talking to an infant which calms them and strengthens the bond between the both of you. When your little one babbles nonsense sounds, repeat their sounds and add real words to your reply to help them practice their language skills. Singing, playing music, and reading to your child will also help them develop an understanding of sound and language.
With school on the horizon, the ages of 3 and 4 are a really crucial period for learning to play well with other children. Cooperation, sharing, and friendship are social skills they start that will help them through school and beyond. Look for opportunities to get your child together with others at local events, playgroups, and clubs.
With older children, take an interest in their friends, give them time to spend together outside school and meet their parents.
Continue to strengthen your kid’s socialisation skills through family game times or taking part in local community events such as charity fundraisers or sports days.
Mental health definition for kids: Having a mentally healthy parent or carer
If you’re reading our articles, you’re an active and interested parent who really cares about doing the best for their child. Don’t forget to take care of yourself as well! A parent with good mental health is as important as any other factor, but one that’s easy to overlook.
Make sure you get some time to yourself every now and then. Don’t give up all your hobbies and interests in the quest for perfect parenthood. Maintaining your own space in the world helps you keep things in perspective, provides a social support network, and allows you to let off steam. 💗