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Back to School: 10 Ways to Nurture Your Child's Mental Health

It is common for parents to take their children to doctor or dentist visits, to immunize them, feed them nutritiously, and help them with homework. But how often do you think about how you can maintain the mental health of your children?

After all, stress, behavior, and academic performance are all affected by a child's mental health just as much as their physical health. And, this is particularly true as children settle into a new school. In addition to the challenges of adjusting to new routines, teachers, and meeting their classmates, students with disabilities often experience anxiety and depression.

With that in mind, here are 10 ways that you can nurture your child’s mental health so that they can thrive in the upcoming school year.

1. Take an intentional approach and be attuned to what's happening.

Children's mental health can be nurtured by parents paying attention to their nonverbal and verbal cues. As a result, your child can be identified when they need some support or a listening ear.

By being attuned to their child's needs, parents form a secure foundation for their child's mental health. To meet their nonverbal physical and emotional needs, we must be aware of their nonverbal signs and respond empathically.

Besides, children can sense their parents' interest in them as well as approval or disapproval. With that said, make sure your child has a secure place where they can experience their feelings, even before they are able to verbally express them. When children are safe, they are better able to identify and express their feelings, so teaching them how to do so will go further.

2. Establish clear boundaries at home and create a routine.

Uncertainty about a child's schedule can cause anxiety or stress. If you establish a routine at home, whether it's a weekly movie night or a daily meal schedule, your child will benefit from it.

In short, a clear set of home boundaries can also minimize feelings of frustration from both parents and children by letting them understand what is expected at home.

3. Show unconditional love.

Jenni Torres, MEd, a former teacher and senior vice president of curriculum and instruction for nonprofit, tells Verywell Family that unconditional love is essential for your child's mental health. As such, keep reminding your kids that they are loved unconditionally and that you are there for them no matter what they are going through.

In her words, kids need to understand that mistakes are inevitable, but mistakes can be learned. Be sure to frame your child's mistakes as learning experiences rather than failures. It is important for your child to know that, despite your disappointment, your love for them does not change.

4. Encourage them to pace themselves

Despite their eagerness to return to class and see their friends, children may find their in-person school day exhausting. If you’re a teacher, consider incorporating study breaks. As for parents, you should include downtime into their schedule as well.

What if you’re worried that your child will get bored? Remember, boredom fosters creativity, conflict management with friends and siblings, problem-solving skills, time management, imagination, self-control, and independence.

5. Make time for play.

The purpose of play for children is simply to have fun. In fact, a good diet, proper care, and playtime play an equally important role in their development.

In addition to developing creativity and problem-solving skills, children learn self-control through playtime. Having fun while running and yelling is not only healthy for children but also beneficial physically and psychologically.

Some other suggestions for fostering a more playful environment include:

  • Make school fun. Try enrolling them in a pre-school, Head Start, or similar community program where they can make new friends and be around other kids. As well as learning academic basics, children can learn how to make decisions and cope with difficulties.

  • Have them play with their peers. There are times when children need to spend time with their peers. Getting along with others, developing a sense of belonging, and learning about strengths and weaknesses comes from playing with others. Local parks and recreation departments, community centers, and schools might have good children's programs.

  • Join in on the fun. Brainstorm ideas on how to spend fun time together like playing board games, mini golf, or coloring.

6. Encourage communication.

Be sure your child knows that they can talk to you about their feelings, thoughts, or difficult situations. Whenever they come to you, listen to them carefully. No matter how much you disagree or do not understand, you need to accept the fact that the challenges they are facing are very real to them.

By recalling the difficulties you faced when you were their age you can put yourself in their shoes.

7. Develop their self-esteem and confidence.

It is important to encourage children's first steps or to teach them how to play a new game so that they develop a desire to explore and learn about the world around them. Children should be able to make their own mistakes in a safe environment where they cannot get hurt.

Make sure they feel secure by smiling and talking often to them. And, engage in their activities. After all, your attention helps build their self-confidence and self-esteem.

How else can you help develop their self-esteem and confidence? You may want to consider the following:

  • Make sure your goals are realistic. You need to set goals that are appropriate to the abilities and ambitions of your children. Choosing activities that test their abilities and increase their self-confidence is easier when you assist older children.

  • Children should be encouraged. The process of striving for excellence should also be enjoyable. Children learn new skills and learn teamwork by trying new activities.

  • Be honest with your children and don't hide your failures. It is important for them to understand that everyone makes mistakes. Knowing that adults are not perfect can be very reassuring.

  • Be careful not to make sarcastic remarks. Ask your child what he or she feels when they lose a game or fails a test. There may be times when children get discouraged and need encouragement. If they are ready, talk and provide assurance later.8 Praise their character.

8. Praise their character.

By encouraging, praising, and affirming their children, parents not only build their child's self-esteem and confidence but also support their mental well-being. Researchers have found that low self-esteem is associated with anxiety, depression, and academic stress. There is even a link between low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.

"Praise children for character traits more often than physical traits or achievement-oriented things," says Kerry Heath, LPC-S, NCC, CEDS-S, a licensed professional counselor with Choosing Therapy. "Children respond well to positive reinforcement, and we want to reinforce the things we want to be repeated, such as being kind, showing empathy, [and] helping others."

9. Model good behavior.

By modeling coping skills at home, you can teach your children how to deal with emotions in a healthy manner. If your child is old enough, you may help them with these skills or guide them through them on their own.

In order to cope with feelings, deep breathing, stress balls, making art, and going for walks can all be useful strategies.

10. Get professional help if needed.

About 7.7 million children and teenagers in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental health issue. However, half of the children who need mental health treatment do not receive it due to a lack of funding, a shortage of child psychiatrists, and a stigma associated with mental illness.

The decision to seek mental health treatment for a child might seem drastic. But there's never a wrong time to do so.

Counseling could even be beneficial to the whole family if even just one child displays some signs of poor mental health. As well as improving your child's mental health, counseling can also provide you with resources and support if you are struggling as a parent.

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