We all struggle at some point or another, children included. Challenges are normal. However, good mental health is important for a child’s social, emotional, mental and physical development.
It is, therefore, important we do what we can to help children manage their emotions and improve their sense of well-being.
There are lots of different things parents and carers can do to support children’s mental health. The practices listed in this article are all very simple and you will likely find that many of them benefit you too!
14 ways to improve the mental health of your child
There are many ways to improve mental health in kids. However, the key to improving a child’s well-being is to help them cultivate loving relationships.
Mental health is closely tied to self-esteem and feelings of safety and security. With this in mind, here are some of the best ways you can help your child feel better mentally and emotionally:
1) Be there to listen to them
Regularly check in with your child to see how they are feeling. Asking your child how they are feeling allows them to build confidence in talking about their emotions.
Just make sure you let them decide how much they talk. Some children want to talk more than others and pushing a child to open up can sometimes increase their stress rather than ease it.
When your child does open up to you, listen without judgment and take what they say seriously. Make sure they feel safe expressing their true feelings without worrying about how you are going to respond.
Don’t minimise their emotions by telling them the things they’re worried about aren’t a big deal. Instead, tell them you understand what they have said and help them process their emotions in healthy ways (such as crying, dancing, singing, drawing or doing something active like playing football).
You could also encourage your child to try journaling about their emotions to see if writing about their feelings helps them feel lighter.
Keep in mind that different emotional processing techniques work for different children. So let your child take the lead when deciding what they want to do and simply offer suggestions to help them find the strategies that work best for them.
2) Encourage open discussion of feelings and emotions
Teach your child to recognise how they are feeling and name the emotions they experience.
You can set an example for this by telling your child things like “I feel happy right now” when you are at the playground together or “I feel frustrated at the moment” when you accidentally burn the dinner.
You can also teach your child about emotions by discussing the experiences of characters in books or on TV. Ask your child how they think a particular character is feeling and why.
Teaching children the language to express how they are feeling helps them process their emotions in a healthy way.
In addition, showing children that it is okay to experience the full spectrum of emotions helps them feel comfortable and safe with you, no matter how they are feeling.
At the same time, it is important to set clear boundaries in your home for emotional behaviour. For example, you can tell your child that it is safe for them to feel any emotion – whether that’s anger, frustration, jealousy or fear – but, it is not okay to do things that hurt people when they are feeling this way.
It does not matter how severe the boundaries you set are, so long as you consistently maintain them. Children just need to know that boundaries are there (boundaries help them feel safe and secure).
You could even make a plan with your child for things they can do when they are feeling a particular emotion so that they have a clear emotional processing pathway to take, such as hitting or squeezing a pillow when they feel angry, or jumping up and down when they feel frustrated.
3) Teach them that it is okay to make mistakes
Mistakes are a part of being human. Point out to your child whenever you make a mistake and demonstrate through your own calm mood and behaviour that it is okay.
Show them that mistakes are not something to be worried about or ashamed of.
4) Spend time in nature with them
Spending time in nature has been linked to improved mental health in children and adults. Research shows that getting out in nature can improve a person’s mood, lower their stress and increase their attention.
If you have a garden, plant some flowers or vegetables with your child. Alternatively, go for a walk together and look for animals, collect leaves or have running races.
You could take turns doing nature “I spy”, pointing out all the things you can see – birds, trees, flowers, etc. Nature can provide wonderful opportunities for learning and mindfulness. Encourage your child to ask questions and then research the answers together.
5) Create a nurturing home environment where everyone feels like a valued member of the “team”
Share responsibilities and make sure everyone’s efforts are recognised and appreciated in your family. This might look like assigning specific tasks or chores to each individual.
The key is to make sure that everyone feels fully appreciated for their contribution to the family. Frequent praise and recognition help children feel valued, which builds their self-esteem.
6) Tell your child you love them no matter what
Then show them that this is true through your body language and nonverbal communication:
- Give them hugs (or invent a special handshake together if they don’t want a hug!),
- Smile at them,
- Be patient with them, and
- Be understanding when they get upset, angry or overwhelmed.
Giving your child a few minutes of undivided attention – during the walk home from school, in the car or at bedtime – can also help them feel loved.
7) Show interest in the things that are important to them
Support and encourage your child to pursue their passions, interests and hobbies – whether that’s art, sport, music or anything else creative or active. This helps you stay involved in their life and helps them feel valued for who they are.
If it is not something you are personally interested in, ask them questions – this can be a great opportunity for them to teach you.
Doing things they love as they learn new skills will boost your child’s self-esteem and sense of fulfilment (which, in turn, will improve their mental health). Fun activities often involve teamwork, and this sense of connection to others will also support your child’s mental and emotional well-being.
8) Praise their effort rather than their results
Focus on celebrating your child for taking part in activities and for doing things that bring them joy. This helps build your child’s self-esteem separate from their performance.
They will learn to be confident in who they are rather than deriving all of their self-worth from how well they do at school or in sports, etc.
9) Be consistent
Children crave routine and consistency in all areas of life. It can be helpful to build positive routines, especially morning and evening routines to help them wake up and wind down feeling safe and secure.
Routines give children structure, which allows them to feel calm in their environment.
Consistency is important when it comes to behaviour management. It is essential that you are consistent in the expectations you set, the rules you make and the discipline you use in your household. This consistency in your behaviour will help your child know where they stand and make them feel more stable.
10) Build trust with your child
Do this by meeting all of their needs – feed them when they are hungry, warm them up when they are cold, etc.
When your child knows they can trust you to take care of them, they will feel more balanced and safe. This trust also means that if they are ever struggling, they will be more likely to come and talk to you about it.
11) Be playful and have fun with your child
Play has amazing benefits for child development; it encourages creativity, problem-solving and imagination.
Play also teaches children relationship and communication skills and helps them build resilience.
Play is one of the key ways children learn, especially when they are little. Role play in particular can help them process things they have experienced in their lives and explore them in a safe and fun way.
Play isn’t just good for your child, it’s good for you too! Playing is a great way to relax and laugh together. Quality time helps the two of you bond and makes your child feel safer and more supported by you.
It can be difficult to make time for play when you have so many other things going on in your life. However, if you can manage it, even just a few minutes of sitting down with your child and playing with them can make a huge difference in both of your moods.
12) Help your child get high-quality sleep
Proper sleep helps children manage their stress and deal with challenges more easily.
Encourage daily physical activity by playing with your child or going on walks or runs with them to help them sleep better at night.
Also, be sure to enforce clear rules around bedtime. Replace technology use before bed with reading a book together and stick to a consistent nightly “lights out” time to help your child get the best sleep.
13) Let them be independent
Allow your child to complete tasks and solve problems themselves without being too quick to step in and do it for them.
For a child, learning that they can do things independently (including solving problems and overcoming challenges) helps them feel empowered and confident. When a child feels capable, their self-esteem rises and, usually, so does their mood.
14) Avoid comparison
Reducing comparison decreases a child’s feelings of lack and insecurity. Encourage your child to focus on themselves and their own learning and growth rather than comparing their abilities and achievements to their siblings, friends or peers.
Make sure your praise of them reflects this by congratulating them on their efforts rather than comparing their performance to someone else’s.
Mental health activities for kids
There are things parents and carers can do to help children stay mentally healthy, including a range of activities to improve mental health.
Examples of activities to improve your kid’s mental health include:
- Using emotions cards – Cards displaying words, pictures or emojis of different emotions can help your child learn about and label specific emotions. Encourage your child to identify different emotions using cards or pictures and consider how these emotions feel in their own body.
- Planning a weekly family fun day – This is an opportunity for everyone in your family to “play” together, doing something you all enjoy. This activity might be cooking, painting or going for a walk. It doesn’t matter what the activity is so long as you all have a chance to relax and enjoy your time together.
- Helping your child create a safe space they can go to when they want some time alone to process their emotions – This will allow them to feel physically, emotionally and socially secure. The safe space could, for example, be some kind of “den” in their bedroom. You and your child can decorate their safe space to make it uniquely theirs – you might like to use blankets, toys, happy pictures from magazines and photos of family and friends.
- Gardening – Connecting with nature through gardening can be a great opportunity for fun and learning. Encourage your child’s independence by giving them a plant to grow and care for all by themselves (with your guidance, where needed).
- Participating in any form of physical activity – Whether this means dancing, swimming, running, skipping, climbing trees or playing sports, whatever form of exercise your child enjoys is a great thing for them to do. If it is something they can do with you or a friend this is even better as it will allow them to strengthen their feelings of trust and safety in their relationships.
- Doing breathing exercises – Learning how to use breathing to feel calmer and more relaxed is a valuable skill that your child can use to feel better whenever they get angry, overwhelmed or upset. There are lots of different ways you can help your child focus on their breathing. For example, you can encourage your child to practice counting as they breathe or you can both pretend you are blowing out candles on an imaginary cake (in a calm, controlled way!).
Signs something might be wrong
Approximately every 1 in 8 children will experience some behavioural or emotional problems.
It’s not always easy to spot the signs of mental health problems in children, but there are a few key things you can look out for:
- Significant changes in behaviour, including not wanting to do things they usually enjoy or not eating as much as usual
- Problems sleeping
- Avoiding or withdrawing from social situations either at school, home or at specific events
- Self-harm (including scratching themselves, pulling their hair out or banging their head)
How and when to get support for your child’s mental health
Remember that everyone feels down, upset or angry sometimes; this is completely normal and is not necessarily a sign that something is wrong. However, if your child seems to be withdrawn or not themselves for an extended period of time, it could be a good idea for you to seek professional help.
You know your child better than anyone, so trust yourself and your instincts and talk to your child about how they are feeling if you can. If you are worried, there is help available to support you and your child through any mental health challenges they have.
At the Blue Tree Clinic, we offer private therapy for children and adults who are struggling with their mental health. Our team of friendly and experienced mental health professionals are here to help you and your child manage their struggles and restore their sense of well-being.
Seeking professional help for even just one child can often improve the well-being of an entire family. Therapy can help families improve their communication skills, learn to understand one another better and give each other the support they need.
If you are not sure whether your child is dealing with mental health problems and would like a professional opinion, you can book an appointment for your child with one of our highly-qualified psychiatrists or psychologists using the contact form here.
The importance of taking care of yourself
Parenting and caring for a child can be challenging. Make sure you pay attention to your own feelings and recognise when you’re feeling down or overwhelmed.
Struggling with your own mental health does not make you a bad parent or carer. In fact, showing your child how to cope with mental health challenges can be a very valuable way to teach them how to manage their own well-being.
Children learn by example. When you do things to manage your own stress, your child will naturally learn to do similar things for themselves.
Self-care and stress management are important life skills that will help your child cope with challenges throughout the rest of their life.
Young Minds provides lots of online information as well as a free helpline and webchat for parents supporting children with mental health struggles.
If you would like more in-depth, personalised, 1:1 support, the Blue Tree Clinic offers private therapy and counselling in London for both adults and children. Our team of highly-experienced mental health experts are here to support you through whatever challenges you are facing as a parent.
Talking to a psychologist can help you learn new ways to balance your well-being with your child’s so that you can both live happier, healthier lives. To book an appointment at our private therapy clinic, get in touch with us using our contact form.
There are many resources available for improving children’s mental health. The key is to remember that if you are feeling overwhelmed, there is support available to you.
You can get help online, through the people in your life and especially through guidance from trained mental health professionals. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you and your child at the Blue Tree Clinic, it’s easy to reach out to us here.