The World Health Organisation reported that half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 years. Adolescence is a tumultuous time when many changes are often occurring in young people’s lives and stress due to identity, school, relationships, and family issues may be high. This can be further negatively impacted by the growing use of technology contributing to peer pressure.
Parents or caregivers need to be able to help their children and young people to deal with stress and challenges by building mental resilience. Resilience helps children cope better with their feelings and those outside pressures, in turn minimising the risk of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Here are some ways you can help your children develop this important life skill:
Provide a Nurturing and Stable Relationship:
- I like to think of parents making the “world a safe place” for their children. This means responding appropriately (exhibiting appropriate coping) to their problems, whether that be a grazed knee or a relative dying. It teaches the child or young person to cope in a similar manner.
- A nurturing relationship with parents/caregivers provides children with a safe and secure environment in which to grow, and a model for future relationships with others.
- Spend quality time with your child – put down your phone to show they have your full attention and ask about their day. I encourage “regular dates” with your child (or each child if you have more than one), spending time together doing an activity that they enjoy. This teaches your child that they are important to you.
- From a young age, you can help to build your child’s independence by encouraging them to do manageable tasks without your help such as feeding themselves or getting dressed.
- As your child grows older, you can give them more responsibility and complex tasks such as getting them to cook a meal one night a week or do chores around the house, such as washing. Don’t feel guilty about this – it is teaching them how to be an adult too!
- Allow plenty of opportunities for free play and for your children to make their own decisions. At a young age, letting them choose between two different T-shirts, for example is a good idea. Creative toys are a good idea, such as such as blocks, dress-ups, building cubbies, and craft. Keep screen time to a minimum. It is find for children and young people to be bored from time to time – having to find something to do is an important part of learning to be independent. Adolescents need to have broader opportunities to make decisions, so perhaps relax the boundaries in an appropriate way (but be mindful of safety).
Help Children Understand and Manage Their Emotions:
- Managing emotions is a skill that even some adults struggle with, so it is not a surprise that many children have trouble managing strong feelings. Model appropriate responses to difficulties.
- Help your child to think before acting, even when experiencing strong emotions, by stopping them from acting out, encouraging self-control, and talking about good choices. Younger children listen better if you are on their level making eye contact and talking in a calm voice.
- When disciplining your child, it is important to be consistent and fair with consequences. Your child might become frustrated and/or angry, so it is also a good opportunity to teach them to deal with those emotions. Validate their feelings, e.g. “I understand you are angry, but we don’t hit others. I need you to take some big deep breaths instead.”
Teach Children to Deal With Challenges:
- Your child’s life is unlikely to be plain sailing from start to finish, so it’s important they learn how to deal with and overcome challenges. Good problem-solving is an important skill to build resilience. You can encourage this by giving your child a challenge and help them to come up with possible solutions. If they fail, encouragement to try again, builds resilience.
- Talk with your child about the everyday challenges you face as a family – they might surprise you with their solutions! E.g. “we’re late for school nearly every day – what do you think we can do about that?”
Get Help if You Need it:
- If you think your child may need some extra help in developing resilience skills, or if they have experienced some trauma or stress, a psychologist can help. Play therapy or simplified CBT are useful for working through emotional issues and psychologists can also give useful strategies to be tried at home.
- For more useful suggestions, click on the handy tip sheet here.
Adapted from The Big Life Journal for Kids.