The earlier we start building mentally stronger children, the better they are ready to face the world.
2020 would be marked as one of the darkest years in our history. It has taught us many things. One of the greatest realizations is that this isn’t the place we want to leave behind for our children. The world may appear boisterous but is lonely and dark in the inside. People lack compassion and empathy. The planet is not worth admiring. We, humans, are the reason for the contemporary situations and we are the ones who could fix it one step at a time. To make this place worth living for the young generation, we need to raise mentally strong children.
Mental Health in Children amidst the Ocean of Myths
Social distancing is the new norm, they say. But I feel the mad race had made us distant a long time ago. Most parts of our socializing were hollow, and the happy place we portrayed on social media was a myth. The rising instances of people succumbing to their psychological distress corroborate my thoughts. We do not want our kids to be delusional. We would want them to follow a pragmatic approach in life. Unfortunately, early childhood mental health awareness is still absent in our society. Our little one’s mental and emotional distress is either ignored or considered overdramatized.
There are not even sufficient children mental health statistics within India that demonstrates that mental health in children is still an arcane concept here. However, evidence shows that most adults suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety or depression started feeling emotionally distressed from an early age.
Why Early Childhood Mental Health Awareness is Important
India is a young country. We have the highest population of kids and adolescents across the globe. These young lives are sensitive, baffled, and already facing the aftermath of the pandemic. If we choose to remain ignorant of their emotional and mental needs, we would be scarring them for life. Their brain is in the developmental stage. Exposure to excessive stress in young children can lead to long-lasting psychic trauma. Toxic stress can impact kids learning abilities, social development, and physical health among other things.
Mental health plays a great role in everyone’s wellbeing. When it comes to young minds, it becomes all the more important. It is never too late but the earlier we start building mentally stronger children, the better they are ready to face the world. They will be more understanding, compassionate, and can also decode the mental health status of people around them.
5 Strategies to Raise Mentally Strong Kids
To develop mental strength in kids the first step is to help them understand, control, and regulate their emotions. Next, we need to teach them to replace negative thoughts with more reasonable thoughts, and to be more resilient. Here are 5 strategies you need to incorporate in your parenting to raise children who turn out into responsible and emotionally strong adults.
Take Care of the Mind as a Family
Mental health has been sidelined for years. We instruct our kids to brush their teeth, eat healthily, keep clean, etc. We worry about what goes in their tummy but little do we worry about what is going on in their minds. We were raised this way in our childhood, and subconsciously we are passing the same trait to our kids.
Like physical health, mental health too should become a priority in your family. Ask often how the child is feeling. Include mental exercises as a family routine. Tell the kid that a person can’t always be happy. Discuss emotions and let the child know that it is ok to feel lonely, depressed, and angry. Moreover, teach them the importance and ways to regulate these emotions.
Validate the Child’s Feelings
As parents, the greatest mistake we make is to ignore what our child is going through. It’s easy for us to be agitated by their unruly behavior and tantrums. However, they behave a certain way because they cannot express their emotions. Never belittle their feelings and the cause of their stress. Take cues and try to figure out the usual stressors for your child. They could be disturbed in a social gathering, due to an argument between parents, something they saw in the news, or while trying a new activity, etc.
Always listen to your kids. Children drop subtle hints about them being stressed, sad, lonely, etc. For instance, my daughter’s negative emotions are evident if she prefers the color black over others on a certain day. Sometimes she would pretend-play and her communication with the toys helps me decode what she is going through. Watch out for signals they drop about their mental state. It could be through what they draw, what they speak, and what they like for a particular day.
Teach Children to Think Realistically
My preschooler was facing difficulty writing the alphabet ‘g’. She kept aside her book and pencil and dejectedly said “I can’t make this alphabet”. In such a situation your instant reaction might be to say “No dear, of course, you can.” But reassuring your children without teaching them how to reassure themselves is unhelpful. So I told her a story where a kid wanted to become a footballer but was bad at the game. I also told her about how the kid aced the game of football with practice.
Narrate any imaginary or real situation that your child can connect to. Make them learn through your example. Let them know that our thoughts are not always right and we need to prove our brain wrong. Whenever they express self-doubt, self-blame, or extremely negative thoughts, teach them to think differently, and change their blue thoughts to more constructive and positive ones. I came across a very helpful article: The Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing and Changing Negative Thoughts.
Let the Child Make Mistakes
People learn through mistakes and so do kids. Don’t expect perfection from a child. Don’t be overprotective and don’t let fear guide your parenting. Let mistakes be a part of your child’s learning process. They should, however, know that while it is okay to make mistakes, repeating the same mistake is not. Talk to them about how they can avoid doing the same mistakes again.
Instill Values in Your Children
Teaching kids certain values right from early childhood will help them grow into stronger adults. Problem-solving skills, self-discipline, analytical and logical thinking, impulse control, empathy- all such skills should be instilled early on. They should be taught to embrace their mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Not teaching them about failure or not letting them do a mistake is a poor parenting strategy. With these skills, children will be ready to deal with the atrocities of life in later years. They would be more productive, could face harsh circumstances bravely, and can recover from setbacks.
What Differentiates Mentally Strong Children from Others
When I talk of mental strength, I do not mean that these kids will always act tough, never fail, or never feel dejected. We are preparing mentally strong kids to face the challenges of the world. Life isn’t a bed of roses, and we are letting them know just that.
Mentally strong kids do not act tough; rather they express their emotions and take control over their feelings. These children fail, but they bounce back soon after. They face hardships, but they tackle their problems. They are emotionally resilient and have the courage and confidence to achieve their fullest potential.
It’s High Time we Stop Ignoring a Child’s Mental Health
Closing our eyes or following the ‘not us’ approach isn’t going to help. We must take action and make our kids future-ready and mold them into the torchbearers for a better world. When they grow up they should not condemn the place their parents (and uncles and aunts) have left behind for them. Rather, they create their paradise.
It may sound quixotic at the moment but spend some time alone in contemplation. You will soon realize that this is the only way to not regret bringing our children into this world.