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Identifying emotions and other ways to help your kids cope with their mental health

We teach them how to say “mama” or “dada”. We teach them how to hold a spoon. We teach them how to connect letters and read words and we try and keep them healthy through exercise and a healthy diet.

And while we know it’s important to take care of our mental health, this is something we often forget to teach our kids.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 10-20% of adolescents (kids between 10 and 19 years) globally experience mental health conditions.

ALSO SEE: The lockdown has had a devastating impact on SA children’s mental health

Here’s how you can teach your children about the importance of taking care of their mental health:

Prioritise sleep

Good sleep habits start from when they’re babies. Teach them to self soothe and to stick to a consistent bedtime routine, and ensure that sleep is a priority in their lives – not an afterthought. If your tweens or teens have cell phones, make a rule that phones aren’t allowed in the bedroom after 8pm, for example. Everyone should leave their devices in the kitchen and they can then get them back the next morning.

Be their role model

Just as they model their other behaviour on you, so too will they model any examples you make in terms of your mental health. Whether it’s putting away your phone at certain times of the day, diarising your weekly yoga class, or going off to do a 15-minute daily mindfulness session, make it obvious to them that you make mental wellness a priority – and they will follow suit.

ALSO SEE: How mindfulness can improve parent wellbeing

Help them identify emotions

This is especially true for younger children, but it will serve them well as they grow up too. So often a child struggles with the way they are feeling because they can’t put a label to it, and they don’t know that it’s actually a very common emotion for everyone to feel. Teach them what “disappointment” feels like, or “frustration”, or “embarrassment”, and tell them that it’s normal to feel like this at times – life isn’t about being happy 100% of the time. It’s also a strength to ask for help when you need it: if you need some professional guidance, some medical aid companies like Fedhealth have Emotional Wellbeing Programmes, where consultants will provide a listening ear and refer you or your child for professional counselling, if needed.

Make time for playing and creativity

Adults have to give a name to our play time: we call them hobbies! With all this overscheduling we do for our kids, it’s vital for their mental health that we set aside free time – and not just when they’re toddlers. Tweens, teens and young adults all need free time when nothing is expected of them and they can just relax, recharge and have fun.

Talk and communicate

This sounds so obvious, but unless you’re making a conscious effort to pause in your busy lives and connect with your children, enquiring about how they’re feeling – you could miss vital warning signs. A useful and practical solution to this is to hold “family meetings” once a week, where you all sit down and take a turn to talk about what happened to you this week, and how you felt about it. It could be around the dinner table on a Sunday – and you could even take notes, listing a goal for each of you that you’d like to achieve, or something problematic that you want to address.

We owe it our children to give them practical tools and habits that will build their resilience and prepare them for whatever awaits them in the wider world – and strong mental health is crucial in order to do this.

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