Childhood is the right time to set the right foundation of a good mental health in kids. Any mistake in shaping children’s emotions during this time could make them susceptible to unhealthy ways of coping with life’s twists and turns which could make their life complicated or difficult. In order to raise a resilient, emotionally intelligent child, it is important to inculcate certain habits in them from a young age so that their mental health does not come under pressure as adults and they are at reduced risk of mental health issues like depression, anxiety among other problems. (Also read: Why children hide their mental health struggle; a psychiatrist explains)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 10-12 percent of children and adolescents experience mental disorders and this must be addressed at the right time. Most mental illness in children, almost 50% of them begin by age 1 and 75% of mental health issues in children occur by the mid-20s.
“Raising healthy and happy children can be challenging, considering that the world has become very fast-paced and technology-oriented. With excessive media exposure and an unhealthy rat race, children are forced to grow up under immense pressure. This, in turn, increases the cases of depression, suicide, and traumas, especially among adolescents who cannot cope with the daily stress that they have to face in their life,” says Anubhuti Das, Counselling Psychologist, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Hospital Mumbai.
Priyanka Jagasia, Counselling Psychologist, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Hospital Mumbai says the quality of the environment in which children and teenagers grow can influence their well-being and development.
“When children experience negative experiences in their homes, including exposure to violence, the mental illness of a parent or other caregiver, bullying and poverty, it can substantially increase the risk of mental illness. Additionally, children often find it difficult to express their emotions, so inculcating good habits in mental health can help them healthily tackle various issues,” says Jagasia.
Here are some of the healthy habits suggested by Anubhuti Das and Priyanka Jagasia that can be taught to young children so that are better able to handle multiple challenges in their lives.
Identify and express emotions healthily: A child might not always be able to express their feelings, especially when they are strong (like anger and frustration), and often end up throwing tantrums. It is essential to teach them healthy ways to cope with their emotions. While throwing tantrums cannot be avoided entirely, they must be given the space to cool down and taught good coping tactics like deep breathing, practicing their hobbies, and indulging in physical activity.
After cooling down, they must be made to understand the perspective of their parents/caregivers. If this is not done at the right age and in the correct manner, they will develop unhealthy ways of coping with overwhelming emotions, which can, in the long run, lead to a lot of emotional and mental conflicts.
Have a daily routine: The importance of having a regular and fixed routine is essential for the good upbringing of a child. For example, they must have a set schedule for sleeping, waking up and mealtimes. These daily structures will help a child to develop a healthy lifestyle. If they are allowed to do what they want at whatever time, they will lack discipline, which will make it difficult for them to cope in schools and society at large.
Develop competencies and skills: Children need to know that challenges will occur at every stage of their life, so they need to learn how to overcome and accomplish goals despite the hurdles that they face. Besides achieving academic success and developing individual talents, children should also learn how to connect with friends and family. By growing their intellectual capabilities and building their social skills, they can effectively reduce the stress and anxiety that they might feel in their everyday life.
Provide opportunities for independence: Children feel better about themselves when they can do things on their own. So, whether you’re teaching your children how to attend an online class or allowing them to take responsibility for cleaning their room, small everyday tasks can help children build their confidence and prove to everyone in the family that they have skills to perform and execute various tasks.
Encourage creativity: It is the job of parents, teachers, and caregivers to teach them creative skills so that they can find outlets to express their emotions. It is essential to understand that every child possesses a unique set of skills, and they should be encouraged to do things they already have a natural skill set for. Whether it is playing a particular sport or instrument or performing arts like dance and theatre or even writing and painting, these skills are valuable tools to help a child tackle the daily stress and anxieties they face.
As creativity is a natural human way to express emotions, every child must be given these tools so that they can enhance and protect their mental health from unwanted stress.