Here's how you can shape the mental health of your child starting from this Mental Health Day

Most parents know that their behaviour impacts their child, now and forever. This Mental Health Day, know how you can shape the mental health of your child according to Dr Jyoti Bhatia, Consultant Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Max Super Specialty Hospital.
Here's how you can shape the mental health of your child starting from this Mental Health Day
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We all grew up with a saying that “A healthy mind is as important as a healthy body”. We all understood that we need to pay attention to our physical health. Our parents had insisted on this motto and this is what we pass on to our children. But with changing times, research has shown that one needs to pay attention to and work on developing good mental health as well. Just as parents pay attention to good sleeping habits, regular exercise and the right nutrition for a child to have a healthy body, they must pay attention to the child’s mental health needs.

The mental health of children has become an important concern now considering the rising incidence of emotional and behavioural issues in children and mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Most of the adult mental health illnesses have their origin in childhood, so the responsibility of becoming aware and taking measures to prevent these or recognise them early rests with the parents.

It is important to identify risk factors or early symptoms of mental health issues. Family history of mental health disorders, developmental disorders like autism, ADHD or learning disability in a child are situations in which parents need to be more careful. In small children, they manifest as behavioural and emotional issues like excessive stubbornness, difficult to handle behaviours, frequent emotional outbursts, excessive fears or sadness, feeling of loneliness or low self-esteem, issues with peer interaction. Such issues should be discussed with the paediatrician so that adequate management can be done at an early stage.  

It is extremely important to give the right environmental inputs in the form of healthy parent-child interaction. Following routine measures can help create the right environment.

Limit screen time 

Limiting screen use is essential to help the child get enriched communication and social interaction opportunities. (As a policy recommendation, children younger than 2.5 years should not be using any screens and it should not be more than 30-60 min in older children).

Healthy parenting style

Parents should clearly state expectations and help the child meet them rather than just expecting him to do the right things. Positive reinforcement for good behaviours should be provided, occasional wrongs and misses can be ignored, blaming and punishment should be avoided. 

Improving emotional intelligence

The latest research shows that emotions carry important messages and should not be suppressed, rather they should be expressed and managed in a healthy way. Understanding, accepting and naming of emotions of the child helps him develop self-awareness. He learns to accept his emotional states and when adequate support is given by parents, learns to self soothe. Parents can learn and model these important life skills and help the child develop these skills right from an early age. E.g. If a child is scared of the dark, instead of telling him it is wrong or weak to feel so, the parent should accept the emotion, talk about it and help the child calm down.

Effective communication

It is important to develop effective communication with children as they grow older. Being a good listener, avoiding judging and comparing, being honest about your own limitations and spending quality time are some measures that help.  

Relationship building

The most important thing that a parent can do to build a good relationship with a child is to regularly spend quality time with the child. Quality time is the time spent with the child which the child enjoys, it generally does not involve any teaching, preaching or judging (any unwanted behaviours should obviously not be tolerated). It is usually done by engaging in play activities and having effective two-way communication. 

Parents have the power to shape a child’s mental health. Parenting is a skill that needs to be learnt like any other skill. It is important to gain knowledge about and practice healthy parenting. Presence of significant behavioural or emotional issues at any age should not be ignored and professional help when needed should be timely sought.

Authored by Dr Jyoti Bhatia, Consultant Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Max Super Specialty Hospital. 

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