Promoting Youth Mental and Emotional Health
It’s been almost a year of dealing with COVID, but dealing with the fallout, the isolation, hasn’t necessarily become any easier to handle, especially for children. Especially for children like our Littles, many of whom are facing adversity at rates that are higher than the average young person in America.
Everyone goes through times when they feel disconnected from others and alone in the world. This can be especially hard when they’re already feeling low. COVID-19 has made feelings of loneliness pretty common, and even harder to overcome – it’s tough to feel connected to others when you aren’t seeing them regularly.
And, as Educationist Neerja Birla points out, human closeness is essential to our overall well-being. A lack of it can make things worse for someone who is already experiencing mental or emotional distress.
In addition, recognizing a child’s mental and emotional needs may not be as obvious as identifying physical needs such as the need for food, clothing, and rest. During this unusual time of COVID, it’s important to be attentive to changes in children’s mental and emotional well-being in order to provide the additional support they may need.
The following signs may indicate that a child is experiencing mental or emotional challenges:
- Major changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Decline in school performance
- Feeling overly anxious, worried, or pessimistic
- Repeated refusal to take part in regular activities, wanting to be alone all the time
- Hyperactivity or fidgeting, an inability to concentrate or focus attention
- Is scared and fearful; has frequent nightmares
- Persistent disobedience or aggression, hurts other people or animals
- Depression, sadness or irritability, frequent temper tantrums
Whether you’re concerned that someone you care for may be struggling with mental or emotional issues or not, it’s important to check in, even if you have to do so via text or Zoom.
Showing up and being present for someone you care about can boost their mental and emotional well-being. For a child who is experiencing a difficult time, it is often enough to know that someone in their life cares enough to check in with them. If you’re not sure how to go about checking in, these tips can help: TIPS
Remember, you don’t have to fix everything for someone who is struggling. Letting them know they are loved and supported is the most important thing, and an important first step.
When it comes to promoting mental and emotional wellness, one of the best things you can do is listen. Listening closely to what others say, especially children, can help to identify mental or emotional concerns. It can also make a world of difference in how a child or loved one feels. Knowing they have someone on their side who hears them can give them the confidence to talk about their troubles. And talking about struggles is a first step to dealing with them.
Active listening involves focusing on what a child is saying, while making a conscious effort to hear not only the words being said but, more importantly, the message being communicated through non-verbal aspects of the communication. Also, it is not accomplished via a tweet or a text.
Active listening involves talking about, and understanding, the nuances of what the speaker feels. For a person experiencing mental or emotional distress, knowing that they have someone in their corner who will listen, understand and empathize with what they are thinking and feeling can be calming, reassuring, and even healing.
You can learn more about active listening here: LISTENING TIPS
Finally, in addition to checking in and listening, here are some other important steps you can take to promote a child’s mental and emotional well-being:
Praise them – Encouraging children’s efforts to learn a new skill or game helps them develop a desire to explore and to learn more about their world. Be an active participant in their activities. Your attention helps build their self-confidence and self-esteem. Praise their efforts and their willingness to try new things more than their results.
Set realistic goals – Children need realistic goals that match their ambitions with their abilities. With your help, older children can choose activities that test their abilities and increase their self-confidence.
Be honest – Do not hide your failures from the children in your life. It is important for them to know that we all make mistakes. It can be very reassuring for a child to know that adults are not perfect.
Encourage them – To not only strive to do their best, but also to enjoy the process. Trying new activities teaches children about teamwork, increases self-esteem, and develops new skills.
Make time for play – Playtime is as important to development as food and good care. Playtime helps children to be creative, develop problem-solving skills, and learn self-control. And adults can be great playmates. Playing a game or sharing an activity with a child gives you a great opportunity to exchange ideas and spend time together in a relaxed setting. Be sure to play for fun. Winning is not as important as being involved and enjoying the activity and time spent together.
Monitor TV and video time – Be selective in choosing television shows and movies for children. Watch shows together and make point of discussing them afterwards.
Talk about your feelings – We all get angry and feel sad or anxious from time to time. If you lose your temper, talk about what happened and why you were angry. Apologize if you were wrong! If you are worried or distracted, let a child know that you have something on your mind and that your concerns are not their fault.
Provide a safe and secure environment. – It’s okay for children to feel afraid sometimes. Everyone is afraid of something at some point in their life. Fear and anxiety grow out of experiences that we do not understand. If a child has fears that will not go away and that affect his or her behavior, the first step is to find out what is frightening them. Be loving, patient and reassuring, not critical. Remember: the fear may be very real to the child.
Celebrate your relationship – Let children know that you value your time together and their presence in your life. Let them know that you are proud of them and that you have confidence in them. Remind them that they are resilient, that they are capable of handling challenges, and that you are there for them. Create traditions that are unique to, and that reinforce, your relationship.
COVID has created unique situations and challenges for all of us. By being observant and remaining informed however, we can help children maintain and improve their mental and emotional health.
Showing up for one another is one of the best ways we can help each other thrive, mentally, physically and emotionally. ‘Being there,’ whether in person or online, has never been more important.