In addition to meeting the physical needs of your child such as food, clothing, and shelter, fostering your child’s mental health is essential to raising a child who will thrive and succeed. How your child interacts with the world, the relationships he establishes with family and friends, and how he copes with challenges are important areas of your child’s mental health.
Here are some tips on how to create a positive environment in which your child will thrive.
Be consistent and responsive to your young child’s needs. Encourage your child’s early development by consistently responding to her needs with love and attention. This is the best approach for children under eighteen months of age and helps to lay the foundation for positive emotional health later in life. Establish routines early on during feeding, eating, and bath-time, but be flexible with your young child, as her needs should come first before a set schedule.
View behavior as communication. Your child’s behavior is one way he communicates his needs, thoughts, feelings, and emotions and gives you a window into his view of the world. Sometimes it can seem like your child is trying to drive you insane. Be patient with your child and know his behavior is a reflection of what he is feeling and trying to communicate with you.
Be supportive and set limits with older children. Once your child begins to test boundaries, typically around the age of eighteen months, provide consistent parenting in which limits and expectations are set and reinforced with fair consequences. Help your child manage her emotions by allowing her to express her feelings, help her identify the cause of her emotions, and offer suggestions on how she can cope with her feelings. This will teach your child to regulate her emotions, an important indicator of child mental health.
Help your child to problem solve. The relationships your child has with peers, classmates, and other playmates help your child learn and grow and provide him the opportunity to develop social and problem-solving skills. Help your child problem solve by encouraging him to make suggestions for solutions, help him think through the problems he may encounter, and give him space to decide how to solve the problem. Talk with him about what it means to be a friend, and model these behaviors with the people in your social networks.
Boost your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Children of all ages, particularly tweens and teens, need encouragement and praise. Help your child find an activity such as a sport, hobby, or other positive influence to boost her self-esteem and confidence. Encourage your child to safely explore the world and always be open and willing to talk with her about her experiences.
Manage the stress in your environment. Research shows that when a child is frequently exposed to stress without the loving, responsive support of caregivers, it can have negative and lasting impacts on his development, including mental health. To learn more about how to help manage stress, see our expert article.
Take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest and don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people around you. Have a plan when you feel overwhelmed and need a few moments alone. Don’t forget to take some time for yourself, ideally, a little time every day. Taking care of yourself will help you take care of your child and give your child a sense of calm and stability.
Trust your parental instinct. If you have any concerns about your child, his interaction with his peers, or if something just doesn’t feel right, talk with your pediatrician at your next visit or make an appointment to connect sooner.
This article was developed with expert advice from Katherine Moss, PhD a licensed clinical psychologist and the Director of Community and Healthcare Integration for the Behavioral Health Network.