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If we’re honest, many of our children’s emotions can be overlooked. We might be busy juggling careers or other family commitments, and often we only notice our children’s behaviour, rather than their feelings. We speak with Bupa UK Psychologist Ariel Arcaute, to learn how we can become more attuned to our children and their feelings.
Parents can measure many aspects of their offspring’s health – how much they weigh, how many portions of fruit and veg they eat, the number of times the tooth fairy has visited. But a child’s mental wellbeing – their ability to function in society, handle their feelings, and cope with the demands life throws at them – is much harder to quantify.
Healthcare professionals have seen an increase in the number of youths being treated for anxiety and depression. In 2015 alone, around three million adolescents in the US aged between 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the previous year.1
Taking care of your child’s mental health can seem daunting, but with a few simple steps you can create an environment where they feel more comfortable discussing their emotions from a young age.
1. Be Open
“From their early years, boys and girls are in a constant search for knowledge, and are experiencing emotions of all kinds,” Ariel says. “Transparent communication is an unfailing tool in the development of a child who is strong and solid in their beliefs.” Be honest and open with your child, and explain your decisions and requests to them. This should, in turn, encourage them to open up to you.
2. Show Affection
Some worry that being overly affectionate might make our children too needy, but it actually helps them feel safe and, according to Ariel, it can boost self-esteem. “A child devoid of affection can become an insecure child”, she explains. So whether it’s giving your pre-schooler lots of cuddles, or telling your teenager you love them, don’t be afraid to show affection.
3. Give Them Your Time
After a long and hectic day at work, you might want nothing more than to switch off with a glass of wine, but your child is unlikely to discuss their emotions if you seem disinterested. Try to set aside time where your child gets your undivided attention. Sit down and play with them or take the dog for a walk together. Ask them about their day and how they are feeling, and remember to give them time to answer – a bit of silence while they put their thoughts together is okay.
4. Don’t Play Down their Feelings
Young children do have tantrums and teenagers can be moody, but dismissing all outbursts or sulky silences as ‘just a phase’ could mean you don’t spot underlying issues. Be sensitive to your child’s behaviour. If they are unusually quiet, withdrawn, or acting up in school, there could be deeper reasons.
5. Ease Off the Devices
In infants, more time spent on handheld devices has been linked to an increased risk of speech delays2, while in teens the pressure to be constantly available on social media has been found to contribute to depression, anxiety, and poor sleep quality.3
“Technologies have infiltrated so many spheres of children’s life nowadays, but excessive use of such media can damage their social capabilities,” Ariel says. “Parents should make it a priority to reduce child-computer interaction.” Set the best example by putting your own devices down.
6. Meditate Together
While it may seem that meditation and mindfulness are better suited to adults, they can benefit the whole family, particularly children under pressure from exams and modern life. In fact, many schools are embracing the trend by introducing mindfulness techniques in the classroom. So why not find a quiet space, encourage your children to focus on slow, deep breaths, and enjoy some tranquillity and bonding time?