Children are the future. It is a fact nobody can deny. As such, protecting your child’s mental health is as key as safeguarding their physical health. Unknown to you, while you may spend so much of your blood, sweat and tears nurturing and building them into fine men and women of the next generation, unfortunately, despite your best efforts, you may be doing something wrong.
A Hard Truth
Nigeria has the highest suicide rate in Africa, as 16,000 people try to kill themselves each year. Frightening, but this number is an underestimation, because who wants to admit to the world that their loved one, or even their child, did something so horrible?
But suicides do not come from nowhere. They are not started from a sudden sprout of madness or possession or ‘juju’. It is a sign of critically poor mental health care. That is what you could be doing wrong.
The Symptoms of Poor Mental Health
A child with a mental Illness or poor mental health may not be as obvious to notice as a child with a disability or poor physical health. After all its normal for a child to feel sad or angry or to even act a little crazy every once in a while. But the warning signs are always there, which is why it’s important to watch out for them.
Common symptoms of poor mental health in children are as follows:
- Constant sadness that lasts more than two weeks
- Withdrawing from their usual social interactions
- Extreme mood swings
- Changes in eating habits
- Unnatural loss of weight
- Difficulty sleeping
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches
- Difficulty concentrating
Children will not always talk about, or even notice, the changes in their own behaviour so often you may need to observe your children for a few months before you notice something out of the ordinary. If you then notice one or more of these signs in your child, it means your child’s mental health is in a bad state and they may have, or may be developing, a mental illness. Taking care of a child’s mental health is as important as keeping them properly fed and clothed. It keeps the child happy, productive and ready to take on the difficulties they may face in their life. But how do you care for a child’s mental health?
1: Stop Your Child’s Bullies
One of the leading causes for poor mental health in children is bullying in school. School is stressful enough for children due to the pressures it puts upon them, but adding bullying to the mix will have severe negative consequences on a child. Bullying can take three forms – physical (such as pushing or hitting), verbal (such as name calling or threats) or emotional (such as rumours spread about them). In such cases, you need to support your child and teach them how to respond to such scenarios, by teaching them to stand up for themselves and to build their self-confidence so that the bullying does not affect their mental health. If the bullying occurs very frequently or if your teachings don’t seem like they are enough, then you need to intervene. Work closely with the school and make them start to institute anti bullying programs in the schools, to raise awareness and stop bullying.
But that is for helping them during school, there is still their environment at home. How can you change their home environment to improve their mental health?
2: Always Let Your Child Know You Love Them
It sounds obvious, but honestly ask yourself: does your child think you love them? Spend a moment to think, does your child think you love them when you compare your child to another when they doing badly in school? Does your child think you love them when you scream at them for misbehaving? There are times when we treat our children without love. Even if it is for their own benefit, it will not matter in the mind of a child. It will make them think that you only love them if they act a certain way, and that if they stray from this path at all them their parents, the people they love most in the world, will hate them forever. You must always let a child know you love them, and you do this by treating a child with respect and kindness, even if they make you angry.
3: Talk with Your Children and Listen
When was the last time you spoke with your child? When you did, did you just speak about school? With the pressures of gaining good grades, school is often the last thing a child wants to talk about. If you only speak with them about such stressors, it will exasperate their stress and affect their mental health. Instead, speak with them about something they are interested in, like football, family TV shows, their friends or their taste in music. Do not just talk either, actively listen to what your child has to say. If your child sounds like they do not want to talk, give them space. If they are excited about their topics, ask questions. Doing this will make you emotionally available to your child, and they will soon feel comfortable enough to speak with you if anything is upsetting them. You will become a safe space, which will greatly help their mental health.
4: Give Your Child Free Time
A child needs to play in order to learn and grow. It may seem counterproductive, what will a child learn when they spend too much time playing instead of studying? They need a break the same reason you do, because overwork will degrade their mental health until they are broken. You need to prioritize a child’s free time, which means you must give them no lessons and no chores for part of their time after school. Instead, let the child process what their day was like and give them an opportunity to destress. This will make them more productive later in the day, and it will have the added benefit of keeping their mental health stable.
5: Model Positive Mental Health
A parent is a role model, whether they want to be or not. You may have already noticed, but your children will learn and emulate some of your behaviours, especially when they are young. Now think for a moment, what behaviours of yours negatively impact your own mental health? Do you have a healthy sleep schedule, do you exercise or focus and spread positivity? If not, then in order to help your child, you need to start helping yourself. Practice positive self-care so that you deal with the stresses of life in a healthier way. Not only will this help your own mental health, but your child will learn to take care of their mental health as well.
6: Seek Professional Help
It is important to recognize that you are not alone. Caring for mental health is a complex process for you to deal with on your own, even more so when you are caring for the mental health of a child. That is why you should also consider finding professional help for your children. Doctors who specialize in mental health practices are known as psychiatrists. Just like a doctor for physical health, they can diagnose the mental health issues with your child and prescribe medication as well as suggest changes to their environment to help them. They may also recommend a therapist, someone who specializes in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is the practice of having a regularly scheduled, deep conversation with someone. Through these conversations, the therapist will find the root of the mental health problems and help create healthy coping strategies. This will be invaluable to you and your child, but for it to work you must trust the process.
Making sure your child is mentally healthy is a constant effort. You must always be aware of your child’s environment and your own behaviour as you raise them, and if you do it right, then you will be on the right track to develop a bright future generation.
But that is only one way to help the future generation. Another way, one which is equally important, is to build a bedrock of secure finances for your children to rely on. While having positive mental health will help your children survive, a secure financial future will allow them to thrive. One of the ways you can provide financial security for your children is to have an Education Trust Fund for your child or ward. To learn more, click here to contact one of our financial experts at Coronation Trustees for more information.