Yes, there is a genetic component to mental health and so if we, ourselves, have had mental health challenges, then our children may be at more risk of developing problems as well. However, there are things we can do that will improve their resilience and greatly improve their chances of happy emotional and mental well-being.
In the early years, a huge issue is attachment, which is when a child feels ‘plugged in’ to a reliable, caring, affectionate adult. Another important thing is that they are shielded from adult anger and violence. A safe, peaceful, loving home is the foundation for a life-time of well-being. Parenting courses are ideal for adding to our skill base to help this to happen.
Later on, a child’s good mental health is fertilised by
- Friendships with peers
- Trusting interaction with other adults
- A sense of connection with family and a wider community
- Opportunities to learn and express themselves
- Good rest
- Protection from, and processing of, stress and trauma.
We don’t like to think of our child’s world having stress and trauma but it is there, and one of the most stressful things that can happen is bullying. It has been linked to depression and anxiety in young people. It’s a big topic, one worth researching more fully if it is an issue, but here are few points.
- Victims agree with the bully. They believe the put-downs and insults. Gently reassure your child and rescue their self-esteem.
- Alternative groups help your child recover. A youth or sport group away from the school or wherever the bullying takes place is a wonderful tonic, to help a child experience themselves as something other than a ‘victim’.
- Debrief. Provide a safe quiet space where your child can talk. Wind down the advice and wind up the listening. Nothing helps a child process their stress better than a non-judgemental adult with a sympathetic ear.
- Enlist the school. Schools are not perfect but much better now at handling bullying.
- Upskill your child. Child-appropriate assertiveness involves things like being able to say ‘no’, to walk away from conflict and to deflect other’s unwanted attention with humour.
Avoiding stress and managing it better are key skills in moving towards better emotional and mental health. Those skills work amazingly well for us and, if we can pass them on, they can also be incredibly useful for our children as well.