By Abby Betz, LSW – May 5, 2022 –
As a parent or caregiver, it goes without saying that the task of taking care of our children is an important one, as well as a great responsibility. Parents may be able to easily identify and address a child’s basic needs by providing them with nutritious foods, a comfortable and inviting home, and instilling a reasonable bedtime routine. However, a child’s mental health needs may not be quite as obvious. A child’s physical and mental health are equally as important.
Ensuring that your child has good mental health will help them develop new social skills, boost their self-confidence, and instill a positive outlook on life. Basic needs for meeting a child’s physical health include maintaining a well-balanced diet, staying up-to-date on immunizations, and having an adequate sleep environment as well as opportunities for exercise.
Meeting a child’s basic needs for emotional and mental health include providing unconditional love, giving appropriate guidance and discipline, instilling self-confidence and high self-esteem, and surrounding the child with positive peers, teachers, and other caregivers to help foster positive conditions of self-worth.
Providing your child with unconditional love should be central to family life. It is important for your child to know that your love does not depend on their achievements. Nurturing your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem is instrumental in developing their ability to learn new skills and feel safe exploring their environment. Teaching and encouraging your children to try their best, but also to embrace failure, fosters a sense of self-reliance and builds their esteem. Setting realistic goals that match their ambitions with abilities is also important when building confidence.
Encouraging play is another important aspect of a child’s mental health. Play fosters creativity, problem-solving skills, and self-control. Learning how to get along with other children and developing a sense of belonging are key components of play that are helpful in learning about their own strengths and weaknesses. TV and use of devices can be helpful for educational purposes, but should always be monitored and limited.
Appropriate guidance and discipline are essential in helping a child learn that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that the child is responsible for their actions. Offer discipline that is fair and consistent and be firm but realistic with expectations. If you must, criticize the behavior, not the child. Avoid threats and bribery. Instead, talk about the reasons for disciplining your child and the potential consequences for breaking established rules. It is also important to talk to your child about your feelings. Apologizing for losing your temper models the appropriate response to difficult situations.
As parents, we must also heed signs that there may be a problem which requires help from a professional. Some warning signs may include regular worry or anxiety, persistent nightmares, disobedience or aggression, frequent temper tantrums, depression, irritability, hyperactivity, and decline in school performance. If you suspect a problem, talk with your child’s teacher, caregiver, or Youth First Social Worker in their school. You may also want to consult with your pediatrician or contact a mental health professional.