Good mental health is an important part of healthy child development. It helps them build positive behaviour, emotional, social and communication skills. It also lays the foundation for good mental health and wellbeing throughout life.
As a parent, you play a vital role in your child’s mental health. You can support good mental health through the environment you create at home and the things you say and do.
What does good mental health in children look like?
Children with good mental health feel loved, safe and secure. They also feel positive and happy about themselves most of the time.
They are optimistic and resilient which means they feel OK about trying new things.
They feel like they belong and get along well with friends and family. And they can cope with sad, angry or worrying feelings and bounce back from difficult times.
5 tips to support your children’s mental health
A positive, caring relationship with you directly affects your child’s mental health.
Here are five ways you can promote your children’s mental health and wellbeing:
1. Talk with your children
Kids don’t always have the right words to express their negative emotions, thoughts, or experiences. This is why it’s crucial to check in on them regularly.
Help them open up about their emotions by asking questions like:
- It seems like you’re feeling sad. Would you like to talk about it?
- How are you feeling about this situation?
- We’re going through a hard time. Can I tell you how I’m feeling?
Take this opportunity to walk them through any life events or stressors in an age-appropriate manner . But it’s important to keep in mind what information your child can tolerate.
When planning a difficult conversation, here are a few things to remember:
- Make sure you’re in an environment where the child feels safe.
- Use language that is easy to understand and share your own feelings.
- Give your child a chance to share their thoughts and feelings.
- Keep your emotional state in mind and pause the conversation if you feel overwhelmed.
- Contact a mental health professional if you need help approaching a difficult subject with your child.
Role-modelling a positive outlook for your child is also very helpful for helping teach children how to manage emotions. For example: “I’m disappointed these cupcakes didn’t cook properly. But that’s OK. I’ll try making them again another time.” Or “Running around that track looks like it might be hard. But I think if I go slow and steady, I can do it.”
2. Be an active listener
When engaging in conversation, especially difficult ones, give your child the opportunity to truly express themselves. This will help validate their feelings and experiences. These cues can help set up a productive and meaningful conversation:
- Stop whatever you’re doing and give your kids your full attention.
- Maintain eye contact to show that your attention is on them.
- Get down on your child’s eye level to help them feel safe and in control.
- Repeat and reflect on what they say to ensure you understand.
3. Encourage playtime
Even during difficult times, create a safe and positive environment where your kids have the opportunity to play and do activities that help them relax. What activities do they enjoy that can help improve their mood? Here are a few ways to encourage positive playtime when your child is feeling sad or stressed:
- Take them outside to a park or open space where they can run, jump, or tumble. This helps release negative stress and emotions.
- Plan time for painting or drawing as a way to express their feelings.
- Schedule time for socializing with other children. This can teach them how to manage and understand different emotions.
4. Create a routine
A routine lets us know what to expect and is often reassuring. Work with your child to develop structure around their day. Including them in the decision-making process lets them feel in control, but also creates a sense of security. Here are a few guidelines to help you plan a realistic routine for your child:
- Be clear and specific. When children struggle to stick to a routine, it’s often because they don’t understand it. Or they’re not sure how to approach it.
- Write down the routine. Get your child involved in creating a to-do list or schedule. This helps them remember their routine and reinforces accountability.
- Be realistic and flexible. Scheduled meals and bedtimes are essential but follow your child’s lead if they feel hungry or sleepy.
5. Create a safe and positive home environment
Monitor your child’s media use both for the content and the amount they are spending on screens. This includes TV, movies, games and internet. Set up parental controls and talk to your child about internet safety.
Be mindful about discussing serious family issues like finances, marital problems or illness around your child. These things can worry children.
How do I know if my child or youth has a mental health problem?
If you have concerns that your child may have a problem, look at whether there have been changes in the way they act, feel or think. This could include:
- Feeling angry or more irritable.
- Over-reacting or sudden outbursts of anger or tears over small incidents.
- Feeling hopeless, lonely or rejected.
- Showing less interest or withdrawing from things they are usually interested in.
- Sleeping issues or start wetting the bed.
- Grades slipping.
- Trouble getting along with friends.
- Physical symptoms, like stomach aches, headaches or general aches and pains.
- Lack of energy or feeling tired all the time.
- Negative thoughts or thoughts of self-harm.
Remember, just because you notice one or more of these changes, it doesn’t mean your child or youth has a mental health problem.
Where do I go for help?
There are many different ways to support your child’s mental health. A good place to start is speaking with your child’s doctor. Share with them:
- Your concerns about your child’s emotional and mental health.
- Any changes in behaviour, how long they’ve had them and if they interfere with your child’s ability to function.
If your child or teen talks about suicide or harming themselves, call your doctor or mental health crisis line right away. As of November 30, 2023, the 988 suicide crisis line will be available across Canada in English and French. It will be available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
Wondering how you’re doing?
Reflect on these 5 statements from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Well-being Index to check in on yourself.