SUPPORTING YOUR CHILD’S MENTAL HEALTH.

Hello Everyone,

It’s been quite a while since I posted here. So many things have been up but I’ve mostly focused on book reviews for now which you can find on my Instagram if you are keen. I’ve had the urge to write this post all summer but it became priority for me to push it out this week  probably because a new school year begins in a few weeks and for many children, this may be a cause or trigger for anxiety. New friends, new school, new teacher, etc. It is especially a major adjustment for kids who have mostly been home for a long holiday period or for those just starting out.

There is a whole range of things that can cause anxiety or worry in little ones and it can manifest in many familiar ways. From moving to a new home/school to a separation of parents, death of a pet or a loved one, to being bullied at school. Kids can pick up on both positive and negative energy, internalise it and react based on it.

If you find that your child, who had previously gotten a hang of potty training before suddenly relapses and starts to wet their bed all over again, or you find that they have become unusually or increasingly clingy, don’t want to sleep in their room, become fussy and throw major tantrums, cry when asked to do things that would normally delight them or suddenly become scared of the dark, rather than dismiss this as ‘attention seeking’ behaviour, dear parents and carers, please pay closer attention.

In protecting kids from the torture of anxiety, the key is to reassure them that they have your unconditional love and support. My first support for my child is in praying for her. You are the custodian and first authority over your child’s life. Stand in the gap and effect changes you want to see by praying for them.

Having said that, here are a few tips I wanted to share mostly based off my own experience with my three year old.

Reading

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Apart from the fact that your presence when reading to them gives assurance that all is well and they have you to lean on, reading specific books that focus on their exact feeling helps kids understand themselves a little more. I’ve found the above books extremely useful in helping my 3yo explain how she’s feeling to me and also communicate to her that what or how she’s feeling is not bad in itself. Feelings are meant to be expressed but it is how they are expressed that can become challenging. We’ve learnt that even though its ok to cry there are other “coping techniques” like hugging your pillow or singing a favourite song when you feel sad or mad from “Little Monkey Calms Down.” “How Are You Feeling Today” introduces the child to the different feelings there possibly are with pictures and how to express them positively. In “My Many Coloured Days,” feelings are likened to colours, sounds and animals with emphasis on how each day can be different but that’s ok.

The other two books are favourites because one has her as a character in the book and the other, “Wacky Wednesday” by Dr Seus is extremely hilarious and improves her mood no matter what.

Outdoor Play

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I hate the outdoors but even I know what a 30-minute walk can do to my mental state in addition to the burst of energy it gives. Children love the outdoors and should be encouraged to explore and play outside. If you’ve done everything to help calm your irritable child and the day seems to have been a major cry fest for no apparent reason that you can immediately put your finger on, take them out for a walk. No matter the weather. If it’s a rainy day get the raincoats and boots out, A sunny day? Get their hats. Make the walk fun. Challenge them to a mini race – Who is going to be first to get to the yellow gate, First to pick 10 stones gets a snack etc.  And let them win of course. It may be tough on you as a parent or carer considering a walk may not be your original intention for that moment but the benefits are a calmer child which is invariably better for you.

Rest time

Since my daughter turned a little over 2, she said goodbye to afternoon naps, no matter what we did. It worried me a lot that at that young age she would be wide awake for so many long hours playing and exploring. If you are in these shoes, don’t panic. Rest is important for everyone’s mental health but children seem to hate it so much. It’s as though they are worried they will miss out on some fun if they get a shut eye. Try to get your child on a regular bedtime routine at night time. I have found that after my daughter stopped napping in the daytime, her nighttime sleep increased which is all well and good. As long as they are getting 12-14 hours sleep, it doesn’t matter much when they are getting it. So, don’t force the afternoon nap if it isn’t working. Stick to a nighttime routine. Try to make it early. We do 7;30 and she sleeps till 7;30 the next day (during term time). If for any reason she sleeps longer, we don’t wake her except we need to be somewhere.

Age-appropriate conversations

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I think one of the best things to do for kids if there happens to be major tension at home is to explain the situation to them. Children pick up even the faintest vibes from you right from birth. I’ve read in many books that a mother’s breastmilk tastes bitter in a child’s mouth when the mother is going through distress or a challenge. There’s probably a science to back it up, though I am unsure of this. However, you find that they don’t latch, wriggle in so much discomfort and just don’t eat when mummy is having a challenging time. If babies can sense tension at such tender age, imagine toddlers. Imagine older kids. If parents are going through a rough patch, or an intending separation for instance, perhaps the death of a loved one or pet has just occurred in the home, I suggest explaining what is happening in age-appropriate words. They will absorb your distress and or anger, wondering if they are the reason for your change in behaviour. We always erroneously believe that with children, protection is better than truth. This is wrong. Protection in cases like this is mostly perceived by children as exclusion. What kids don’t know they will make up in their heads.

It is better to use age-appropriate words to explain that what is going on isn’t about them. Do all that’s in your power to keep them from being at the receiving end of negative vibes. Take them on a visit to the grandparents or a favourite relative. Let them keep getting the assurance that no matter what happens, the people who love them have their backs.

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  • While we take care of our children’s physical needs, we must pay attention to their mental ones just as much. As soon as they are grown enough to express themselves with body language and a few words, we must listen to understand and respect them. Avoid forcing them to do what they will rather not do, like hugging a guest at all cost. If a child doesn’t want to hug a guest even if a close relative, it may be embarrassing for you as a parent. Offer substitutes instead but make sure they are the ones deciding still. Say something like “You don’t want to hug Aunty XYZ, do you want to give her a hi 5 instead?” Resist the urge to emotionally blackmail them. “This is Aunty XYZ o, the one that bought you a giant teddy bear last year.” “The one that’s been taking care of you since you were in the belly.” Please stop. Encourage good manners not forced manners.

 

  • Avoid giving in to demands that are usually off limits or disrupting regular routine when your child is experiencing a series of meltdown. For instance, if they normally don’t have snacks after 5pm, you may want to pacify a cranky child with a snack but I think it is wise not to (of course there are exceptions to every rule). This is because the calm will most likely only be temporal and after you have come round that phase, it will be difficult to get them to understand that it was a ploy to make them feel better. Readjusting may send them straight into another bout of anxiety where they wonder why mummy isn’t giving in to their request.

 

  • Finally, seek professional help if you think that your child is having a hard time with their mental health and you have done your possible best. You are not alone. If you feel that something is lacking in their social skills or emotional development, speak to a paediatrician as a start and proceed from there. Kids develop differently and at their own pace. Sometimes, what is needed is probably another one year of support for your child. Don’t compare them to other kids their age. If they still need a bib when eating, then they need it. Heck, even adults need bibs. If they still need to be fed occasionally, it can be tough on you but it’s not going to be forever. If they need a few more months with potty training, don’t sweat it because other kids in nursery are already nappy free.

I am no expert at parenting. Like the rest of you, I am also winging it but doing so with the aim of raising a wholesome next generation intentionally. If you have feedback or questions, please leave them in the comments.

I wish you a safe transition into whatever phase your little one is entering into.

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