Hello, my lovely readers! Today I have a great guest post from the people at Jumo Health who are all about providing age-appropriate mental health, health, and self-care resources for kids. If you’ve purchased my anxiety workbook, Breathe. then you’re familiar with my story of childhood anxiety. My childhood was rough. That had less to do with outside influences and more to do with what was in my head.
I didn’t understand what anxiety or depression was.
There was no concrete reason I could point to and say: “This is it, this is what bothers me.” It was everything. I always had this fear of failing. Of getting detention. Bullies. Getting bad grades. Forgetting homework. Walking down the hallway. Eating lunch in the cafeteria. I feared this big, undeniable, BAD THING that was just bound to happen.
My thoughts were always on a constant repetitive loop in my head. Worry. Worry. As a middle-schooler/high-schooler, there are A LOT of thoughts going on anyway (thanks, puberty). Anxiety is having all of those insecure thoughts on overdrive. Add in a healthy dose of hormones and I was a mess.
I had my first full-blown panic attack in 9th grade in history class. I had stress migraines in 11th and 12th grade that would end with blinding nausea and hiding in the bathroom stall feeling like death. That was my “normal”.
I didn’t realize how completely my anxiety had affected my life. I didn’t even realize that it WAS anxiety. No one ever sat me down and explained to me that I didn’t have to feel that way and that I could actually do things to make myself feel better.
That’s why I am so passionate about mental health awareness. My life would have been so different had I been able to identify what I was feeling instead of believing that it was my unchanging normal.
Here is some great advice that I wish I’d had:
Growing up is a hectic period for children, one that manifests as a continuous cycle of trials, tribulations, and positive revelations. The process isn’t without its pitfalls, and your child’s developmental years are when they are most vulnerable to mental health impairments. Helping your child build healthy self-esteem through consistent self-care practices is a necessary preventative measure.
Understanding mental health as a central component of your child’s development
Those who cope with mental health challenges later in life typically do so because of toxic stress experienced during childhood. Monitoring your child’s relationship with mental health can begin as early as infancy, focusing on developments from birth to early childhood that include their ability to articulate feelings, maintain relationships, and navigate the world around them.
There are three types of stress that can impact on your child’s mental health: positive, tolerable, and toxic. The first relates to general stressors existing in your child’s daily life, like trying new things or getting in trouble at school. Tolerable stress triggers the body in a more dramatic way and is caused by significant but less frequent life occurrences such as the loss of a loved one or an isolated injury. The most impactful type is toxic stress, which occurs when a child experiences intense and prolonged emotional or physical abuse. Exposure to this stress during childhood has the ability to restructure the entire brain, leading to emotional or cognitive impairment.
Experiencing toxic stress is a large indicator of potentially developing mental health challenges later in life. Often times, parents assume their child is destined to experience certain impairments if they or other family members also live with the same concerns. Genes do carry many mental health challenges, but exposure caused by the levels of stress is what triggers and enables them to manifest in your child’s life.
Establishing self-care routines to help your child manage the adversity
As a parent, self-care is your best tool for preventing mental health concerns from debilitating your child’s life. If your child already struggles with challenges due to previous exposure to toxic stress, understand that this is in no way an end all. Your child can live a loving and positive life, even with daily mental health adversities. Taking the time to establish self-care routines with your child will help them develop a self-loving attitude towards themselves, negating ultimate difficulties with their mental health.
Self-care is any action that your child can take to promote or prevent additional regression of their mental health, and overall enhance their general well-being. Integrating this practice into a daily routine can be done through your example, modeling a healthy, loving relationship with yourself.
Open up a healthy dialogue
Self-care begins with helping your child articulate how they’re feeling. Basic abilities to safely express emotion can be interrupted by stress experienced during the infancy stage of development. Teach your child that its necessary to acknowledge when they struggle with their emotions in order to offer these challenges understanding and rest.
Turn the conversation into a bonding experience. Several times a week, sit down with your child and teach them regular journaling practices. Expressing their struggles on paper can serve as an effective transition into verbalizing them. Allot a specific span of time for writing about a pointed topic. You could write about how doing a specific task at work makes you feel while your child focuses on feelings experienced during a particular moment at school. Sharing what you’ve written with one another implicitly builds trust surrounding emotions that they may otherwise find too sensitive or anxiety-inducing to share. Establishing this as a regular component of their self-care routine additionally makes a self-awareness of their mental health a priority.
Support your child’s mental health promotion through community
Beyond the development of healthy dialogue to raise your child’s awareness of their mental health, help your child fit constructive habits into their schedule like participating in regular social activities.
Although school is a social environment, a large portion of its function is to serve as a learning resource, which may simultaneously act as a source of stress. Social groups are useful for developing a sense of belonging within their life. This is important as mental health challenges can cause them to feel different from those around them, leading to isolation. Talk to your child about their interests. Determine what types of activities will give them something exciting to look forward to.
Support your child’s relationship with alone time
A healthy life is about balance. Socialization is important in creating a sense of inclusiveness, which reframes mental health as a unique challenge rather than a difference isolating your child. For many who struggle, however, too much socialization can overstimulate the brain and lead to heightened emotional and physical discomfort.
Set aside a specific amount of hours a week for you and your child to engage in more private, low-stress activities to balance out over-stimulating their mental health. Practice meditation or gentle yoga as a way of guiding your child in habitually reconnecting with their thoughts and feelings several times throughout their week. Providing a space for them to ‘reset’ will make articulating their feelings easier later on. Meditative practices will also serve to counter the physical reactions they have to mental health triggers.
Work on the Now
In addition to meditation, practicing mindfulness can help to establish a healthier perception of the time spent in a given day. Mental health adversities can create uncomfortable, agitated responses when your child is too consumed by the future.
Looking forward and being aware of upcoming events or possibilities is a normal part of being human. If your child is exclusively concerned with the future, however, they will feel debilitated by this anxiousness during the present. Practice conditioning a sense of mindfulness throughout the day, consciously focusing your conversations with your child on everything happening in that moment.
Self-Love can Start at Home
The empathic power woven into the bond between a parent and their child is one of unique awareness. A parent is so in tune with their child’s emotionality, that witnessing them struggle day by day with a mental health concern is a disheartening process. Find comfort in knowing that this is not a helpless situation. Believe in your ability to negate future mental health complications by introducing self-love at an early age.
Spend less time ‘treating’ your child. Spend more time building a loving environment in which they can safely navigate their adversity, falter, and grow. Learning to love yourself in spite of unique adversities is less of a given and more so a muscle that needs to be conditioned each day. Placing self-care above all else when developing your relationship with your child will provide the opportunity for this growth to take place.