Whether we are a parent, an early years educator, a teacher or an education or care professional, mental health is on our lips. How do we best support young people to manage their mental health? How do we promote self-care? How do we educate about well-being.
It starts with us.
By being advocates and role models to our children and young people, we can actively demonstrate these skills in a way that allows them to make sense of mental health and their own well-being.
So, in this article, we look at 10 ways that we can role model mental health and well-being with young people.
#1 – Talk about things
We all learn our reactions from our own experiences. We all have a choice to break the cycle or continue it. By modelling to children and young people how to sit down and talk through arguments, challenges, frustrations and difficulties, we can demonstrate to them, healthy relationships and communication. For some, this may come easily, for others of us we may need to do some inner work to recognise why personally, we may find these conversations difficult. This can be considered by recognising that in order for children to express their worries they need to know that this will be received and heard.
#2 – Drop the judgement
Every now and again, we may be inclined to make a stereotypical or discriminatory comment about groups in society. It may not be conscious or intended with offence. However, remembering that children’s minds are like sponges and if they hear these comments that they may feel that they cannot express concerns surrounding those areas may help us to consider our impact. So frequently, children and young people can be hesitant to share concerns surrounding their mental health, sexuality or relationships worrying that it will be poorly received. Most upsetting is that many adults had made the comments which led to this belief in a moment of spontaneity, not because it was their belief.
#3 – Have a healthy attitude to food
Practicing what we preach is really important when we are around children and young people, especially around food. Many young people we meet with disordered or difficult eating patterns, comment on parents who; skip meals, demonise foods, cut out food groups, restrict sugars, lock away treats or exercise in order to have treats. Our primary socialisation impacts our behaviours. Therefore, ensuring that we model a healthy attitude to food and talk about it in positive manner is incredibly important.
#4 – Talk about yourself with kindness
When we hear young people refer to themselves as being ‘ugly’, ‘fat’, ‘horrid’, ‘wrong’ or any other negative comment, it can break our hearts. Self-esteem comes from the value we place on ourselves. Role modelling talking to ourselves with kindness and compassion is incredibly important for young ears to hear. Children quickly mimic what we say and do, and the way we refer to ourselves is no different.
#5 – Express emotions
Role modelling to young people how to express emotions and respond to them develops their emotional literacy and resilience. Normalising emotions, and that it is quite ordinary to experience multiple emotions in a typical day is important information for our emotional development. Supporting them to then know how to react to them is equally important. For instance, silence when struggling does not teach us the skills to manage emotions. However, commenting ‘I’m feeling really overwhelmed with everything so I am going for a hot bath/walk/swim/talk to a friend’ supports us to develop life skills. It also means that children do not interpret emotions as someone not liking them.
#6 – Share books, stories and films about mental health issues
Making time to share stories, factual books or cartoons or films about emotions is a great way to start emotions conversations. From the Adventures of Brian (books or audios) to films such as Inside Out, to feelings books like How are you Feeling Today there are many resources available to support conversations about emotions. These develop emotional literacy and resilience.
#7 – Problem solve together
A problem shared is a problem halved. However, a problem shared is also an opportunity to discuss the ways that we can solve it which develops our self-esteem and resilience. Taking time to map out problems, possible solutions and create a plan is a great way to help children look at their challenges from different directions and perspectives.
#8 – Avoid avoidance
The only person who should be sticking their head in the sand is an ostrich. To support children and young people to develop resilience we need to be supporting them to tackle things head on. Whether it is a disagreement with friends, homework that is not done, paying for things in shops, or talking about our worries, dreams or goals, avoidance only serves to increase anxiety. If we model facing things, even expressing, ‘I’m a bit nervous, but I will feel better afterwards’ we can support young people to learn how to tackle their own mountains.
#9 – Compliment non-academic things
Whilst good marks in a test are great, and good outcomes on an assignment are great achievements, how many of us, as adults, feel that we are only as worthy as our achievements? Taking time to recognise children’s qualities and attributes boosts their self-esteem in better ways. Compliment their kindness, commitment, perseverance, dedication, help or concentration to help them separate themselves from physical achievements. Take the time to tell them how wonderful they are outside of academia or sports, so that if something goes wrong, their self-esteem is not tied to it.
#10 – Take the time to be together
Electronics, social media and the internet quickly take over lives. Taking time to spend with children and young people where they have undivided attention, consideration and time is imperative to our mental health. In these moments, we have opportunity to connect and relate to one another, as well as share our feelings.
For more articles about mental health visit – ARTICLES
To learn more about child and adolescent mental health visit – COURSES
For resources to support child and adolescent mental health visit –RESOURCES
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