Children are often overlooked when it come to their mental health. They deserve our support just as well as adults do. Because some children can find it difficult to communicate how they are feeling, particularly if they have experienced trauma or live with ADHD, it can come across that nothing is wrong.
This can be a challenge for a parent or teacher, looking for cues to guess how a child is feeling. One of the best ways is to build trust over time, so the child feels comfortable talking about emotions in the future. This can be done through:
- Being honest about things to set a good example
- Staying calm if they are telling you something bad
- Keeping the communication private, unless there is a danger to the child
By establishing trust, hopefully your child will become more open about their feelings and even their mental health. Once that happens, it makes it a lot easier for you to support them. Here's some great ways to do so.
Be an active listener.
It's easy to forget how important listening skills are when we're busy doing other things. But children learn through talking and listening. They also learn through observing what others do. So make sure you're actively listening to your child when they are talking about how they feel.
Not only can listening to children help with their development, emotional awareness and can build self-esteem it also means you're focussing on the issue at hand. You can also repeat things they have said back to clarify, to show you are listening to them.
Encourage them to express themselves.
If your child has trouble expressing their feelings, encourage them to talk with you about their emotions. They might feel more comfortable sharing his thoughts with you than with friends or family members. And they'll probably appreciate hearing your advice and suggestions!
You can help them express themselves through other ways, such as through drawing and colouring. The That's Okay children's mental health book also allows for children to express themselves, by being able to relate by the different emotions displayed in the book.
Give them time alone.
It's important for children to have time alone to think and process their feelings. Encourage your child to spend time alone by giving them space to play quietly, read a book, draw, or write down their thoughts.
Alone time for a child can help them build confidence and encourage creativity. It allows for reflection after a busy day. This isn't dissimilar too adults, when many of us like peace and quiet when we have been engaged all day.
Let them know you care.
Showing you care as a teacher, counsellor or parent is an essential part of supporting a child with their mental health. How many times as an adult have you expressed how you are feeling and someone else shows little interest? It can make us feel isolated and rejected, and the same applies to children.
Expressing care ties into listening to the child's problems. But also offering advice and an understanding that how they feel is normal.