As parents, we’re diligent about taking our kids for check-ups and offering nutritious meals. But are we doing enough to take care of our children’s mental health?
BY CELESTE STRYDOM

One in five children suffer from a mental disorder. And while not all mental health issues can be prevented, there are ways to help keep your child as healthy and happy as possible.
COVID-19 and Lockdown has impacted life as we know it. Consultant for The Neuro Diversity Centre in The Western Cape, Janine Boshoff, an educational psychologist, warns of intense feelings of uncertainty, fear and worry in a world where one’s daily schedule has suddenly been cancelled.

Janine explains, “Because of the preventative measures we as a society now have to put in place, it is important to acknowledge to ourselves and our kids how things have changed. You need to help your child verbalise their experiences and the emotions they associate with it. Acknowledging your child’s experience, helping them with the words to express it and offering alternative options or a positive perspective, will support them and build their resilience.
While the world may seem a little uncertain, we look at practises we can observe to fortify our children’s minds.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Janine notes, “The home is the first line of defence. The parent(s) or carer is the first person the child looks to for reference, to show them how to deal with a situation. It doesn’t help to tell a child “Do what I say and not what I do”. Our children should be our own reason for improving our own coping strategies during stressful and uncertain times.”

Living through a pandemic many people report feelings of lethargy, lack of motivation or noticing changes in their eating or sleeping habits; all signs of mental fatigue. Be mindful of how you are feeling and if you need to, talk to your doctor. Research shows that when a parent receives therapy or medication to address mental illness, children’s mental health symptoms improve as well.

DEVELOP THEIR SELF-ESTEEM
Parents can participate in boosting their child’s self-image, but they should also teach children how to develop their own.
• Encourage healthy self-talk.
• Acknowledge their emotions,
recommends Janine. “I can see you are feeling sad. Are you missing your friends? It is OK to feel sad and alone when you can’t see them often”.
• Allow them to be independent and demonstrate competence.
• Offer genuine praise, it can be tempting to extend exaggerated compliments to our children.
However, try to avoid praising things they can’t control, like how they look or how smart they are.
• Ask questions about their interests and goals.
• Monitor their access to social media and set firm and fair boundaries.

HELP YOUR CHILDREN PROBLEM SOLVE:
Teach your child how to relax when they feel upset. Introduce them to breathing techniques or just the concept of spending time alone. Without taking over, talk them through difficult events by suggesting possible solutions.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR CHILD HAS A PROBLEM?
Mental health problems may present as a lack of energy, change in appetite, tummy aches or general aches and pains. It’s easy to see why these issues can so easily be mistaken for a physical ailment rather than a mental one.
Look for changes in the way they act, feel or think. And remember, just because you notice these changes it does not mean that your child has a mental health problem.

“Probably the biggest insight… is that happiness is not just a place, but also a process. Happiness is an ongoing process of fresh challenges, and it takes the right attitudes and activities to continue to be happy.”
– Ed Diener

Contact your doctor:
• if a change in behaviour persists or interferes with your child’s ability to function;
• if you’re concerned about your child’s emotional or mental health.

‘’It is against a child’s nature not to socialise, touch, play, explore together and share their experiences with others. As parents, we need to be mindful of their need to share what they discover, see, find interesting or want to call your attention to.’’ Janine Boshoff
Be proactive in seeking out joy. Many families have been thrown into turmoil in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve cancelled travel, we’ve not seen our loved ones for protracted periods of time, many of our careers have been impacted and our homes are suddenly full. Full of love, full of frustration, full of everyone’s feelings. Our children are experiencing this daily grind too, and just as mindful as we are of what we put on their plates, so too must we concern ourselves with what is on their minds.