Being a parent can be daunting. There’s the usual worry about whether you’re doing a good job, or whether you may have made some mistakes along the way. And then there are all the things you can't control that may affect your child mental health and sense of safety like the pandemic, news of school shootings, social unrest, war, and bullying.
Mental health is an essential part of your child’s overall well-being that is just as important as their physical health. In fact, their early mental and emotional development creates the foundation for later success.
Children’s mental health was challenged in new ways too over the past 2 to 3 years. In addition to the usual challenges of growing up, many families have had to deal with the loss of loved ones (or separation from distant loved ones), the fear of getting sick, and the consequences of remote learning and school closures.
As a parent there are many steps you can take to help protect and address your child’s mental health. Try these suggestions for supporting your child through difficult times, and reducing their risk for anxiety and depression.
Even small children can be overwhelmed by stress. The signs may include mood swings, trouble at school, or physical symptoms like upset stomachs and headaches.
Use these strategies to help your child learn to reduce and cope with stress:
Slow down. It’s easy to find yourself rushing around when you’re busy at home and work. Make a deliberate effort to spend more time with your kids.
Find out what they know. For example, if you’re concerned how world events are affecting them (e.g., Pandemic, school shootings, war), ask them “What have you heard about this?” And then listen.
Listen. Be there for them. Don’t ignore their problems; talk about them instead, letting them know that they have someone who cares and wants to help.
Remember that children process things differently from adults, so don’t expect them to act or feel the same way as you do when experiencing difficulties in life. Instead focus on understanding how they see things at their level of development rather what we might think if were in their shoes.
Ask your child if they would like to talk further about what happened and if not, don't push them.
Normalize. Let them know it's normal to be upset, scared, or angry, and it's OK for them to express those emotions in whatever way feels right at the time (e.g., crying).
Ask open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling?” or “What’s going on?” Listen to their answers and show that you care and are listening by saying things such as, “I heard what you said; tell me more.”
Teach coping strategies. Be a role model by acting patient and cheerful under pressure. Rehearse dealing with scary or frustrating situations. Make a game out of breathing exercises and naming feelings.
Make art. Creative projects are another way to deal with intense emotions. Stock up on craft supplies online or at a local hobby shop. Draw what you are feeling, people or things that make you happy or feel safe, or assemble a collage.
If they want some time alone, respect that decision too! Just make sure they know that no matter how much time passes between conversations like these—whether an hour later or months later—you'll be there when they're ready.
Be honest about how you feel as a parent - appropriate to the age of your child - when it comes to the issues that come up. You can set an example that it's ok to feel worried, to struggle, talk about how you feel, and to seek out help, so they learn it’s ok to talk about our feelings.
Use these daily techniques to help your child stay healthy and connected:
Start conversations. Healthy relationships depend on constructive communication. Arrange for a short talk with other family members as well about what has happened and how best we can support one another if we need help.
Turn off devices. Technology makes our lives easier, but it’s essential to set reasonable boundaries. Otherwise, it can become a source of stress by crowding out other activities. Designate certain times each day to disengage from phones, computers, and televisions.
Stay active. Moving around is a great way to lift your spirits and release tension. For a bigger boost, exercise and play sports outdoors where you can enjoy fresh air and green spaces.
Eat together. Make a commitment to dine as a family for at least one meal each day whenever possible. The menu can be simple if you’re short on time. Focus on creating a pleasant atmosphere and friendly discussion.
Have fun. Laughter relaxes your body and releases hormones that make you feel happier. Share a Joke. Watch funny movies and read comic books. Play charades and train your dog to do silly tricks.
Practice self-care. Remember that looking after your own mental health is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. Staying strong and resilient yourself can make your home life more peaceful for your children. Invest in yourself by eating a healthy diet, working out, and getting adequate sleep.
Be consistent. Structure helps kids to feel safer and more secure. Establish daily and weekly routines, like regular mealtimes and bedtimes or family activities & friend visits.
Here are links to a variety of resources to help support your child’s mental health and their ability to deal with the stress of world events:
Kelty Mental Health - Helping families across the province of BC navigate the mental health system, connect with peer support, and access resources and tools to support well-being.
Samhsa - Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event.
Apa - Tip sheet on Talking with your children about stress
Articles specific to school shootings:
How to Talk to Kids About School Shootings - Take an age-based approach to discussing news of school shootings with kids.
10 Strategies for Talking to Children About School Shootings - Practical advice for navigating this seemingly impossible task.
Akidsco - Find books, podcasts, and apps to help spark important conversations. This site sells books designed to start a conversation about life's most important topics.
Here is a sample PDF of their book on how to talk about school shootings – it was made available for a period this past year due to recent events.
It is our hope that these tips and resources help you better understand how to support your child's mental health. Remember too that looking after your own mental health is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. You can set an example that it's ok to struggle, to seek out help, and talk about how you feel so others won't feel afraid or ashamed when they need help too! Check out our Resources page, and if you are a BC film worker and member of a union, check out your unions benefits on the Union Benefits page.