Protecting Your Child’s Mental Health

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By Kandace Troxell, Intern – January 17, 2024

When you have a baby, your world changes. Your entire focus on life shifts from yourself to keeping your newborn safe and happy. You are constantly holding them, cradling their head, and watching their every move to ensure their safety.

As they grow into a toddler, you put safety locks and guards throughout the house to ensure that they do not bump their head or seriously injure themself. When they become a young child, you insist they wear a helmet when riding a bike and you keep a diligent eye on them in and around swimming pools.

As they reach the teenage years, you make sure they wear their seat belts when they drive in their first car. As parents, protecting your child’s physical health is completely natural…but have you considered how you are protecting your child’s mental health?

Children’s bodies develop and change as they grow, and their brains are developing and changing as well. According to Melissa Ford, senior strategist and writer for the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, a child’s brain is growing and changing even as they move into the teenage and young adult years. In the same way that you protected their bodies, it is important to protect their minds.

One way of doing so, according to Ford, is to create a nurturing environment for the child to grow and develop. If a teenager is experiencing a stressful environment, they may not have the ability to process their emotions in a productive and healthy way because they are overwhelmed by the stress of the environment.

How can you create a low stress environment at home? Start with creating a solid foundation by making sure a child’s basic needs are met, including providing three meals a day, making sure they practice good hygiene, and ensuring that they get adequate sleep. Additionally, it is important to create an environment that does not focus on pressure, shame, or guilt, but instead, focuses on understanding, openness, and empathy.

Another way to protect your child’s brain is by helping them understand the importance of doing so. The Center for Parent and Teen Communication explains that one essential way to educate your child about their brain is to teach them about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol on their brain and body. Young people may perceive drugs and alcohol as fun, recreational activities to enjoy with friends; however, there are serious consequences for their developing brains.

Additionally, you can teach children WHY it is important to protect and care for their mental health. Together as a family, you can practice self-care activities that lessen stress. These self-care practices could include eating a healthy diet, exercising, doing yoga, taking long walks, journaling, talking to others, and more.

We all want what is best for our children. The bottom line is that it is just as important as a parent to protect your child’s developing brain and their mental health as it is to protect their bodies from harm.