Like most parents, you arrange your world around your children’s needs. You feed them, tend to them when they’re sick, read to them to expand their minds, and then teach them to do these things for themselves so that they may someday fledge into the world as strong, healthy, self-reliant adults.
But is your child emotionally prepared to handle life’s inevitable ups and downs, stresses and demands? Have you taught them to recognize when it’s time to reach out for help? When it comes to teaching healthy ways to think and feel, it’s never too early to start.
Those blue-faced, sprawled-on-the-floor tantrums that toddlers experience are often a result of being overwhelmed by frustration and anger. Teaching your child to acknowledge and identify these feelings is a first step toward healthy emotional awareness. The ability to communicate changing emotions can later help a growing child identify alarming shifts. A teen comfortable with verbalizing her feelings will be more likely to reach out for help.
Every child is perfect in her own way. But as an adult, you know that perfect doesn’t mean flawless. If you drop an egg, shrug off the mistake, and then clean up the mess, your toddler will model your behavior by accepting mistakes and dealing with the consequences with grace. For a preschooler in the midst of potty-training, witnessing how their all-powerful parent handles little accidents like a broken egg can be wildly reassuring.
The world can be a harsh and unfeeling place. One of the bedrocks of lifetime mental health is learning how to handle the inevitable stresses, roadblocks, and disappointments. Your preschooler may not remember the time he didn’t win the lead in the school play, but the lessons you taught him about how to handle disappointment will stay with him for a lifetime. Praise your child for honest effort and hard work, whether or not success follows, and they’ll learn grit.
A child’s social world begins with the family that makes him feel safe and cared for. That world expands as he makes friends with his peers, which encourages a sense of belonging and trust in others. Having a network of friends keeps a child active, gives him different perspectives on the world, provides resources for advice, and centers him in a community that looks out for one another. Encouraging empathy for others makes for a more emotionally healthy child as well as a wonderful adult.
Children suffer from many of the same mental illnesses that affect adults, but the symptoms often manifest in different ways. One of the best ways for a parent to keep alert for brewing troubles is to become educated about mental health issues. Starting early is the best way to grow not only a healthy body but also a healthy mind.