As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to grow up equipped with the tools they need to understand and support their mental health and wellbeing.
In fact, according to a recent survey (1), maintaining good mental wellbeing is one of the top health priorities that parents in the UK have for their children – in addition to ensuring they receive a healthy diet and get a good night’s sleep.
However, while looking after our children’s emotional and mental wellbeing is every bit as important as taking care of their physical health, it isn’t always simple.
Knowing how to talk to your child about their mental health, or recognising the signs that they might be struggling, can be hard. Moreover, realising that your child may be struggling with their mental health and experiencing anxiety or depression can be difficult to accept.
To help, here Dr Dawn Harper, GP and Simplyhealth Ambassador, shares her expert advice to support your child’s mental wellbeing in 2020.
Feeling anxious or stressed is something that many children deal with from time to time, whether it’s due to pressure at school, bullying, exams or issues with friends and family.
None of us are immune to these feelings; they are perfectly natural and usually not indicative of anything serious. However, that’s not to say that we can’t take simple steps to tackle them and keep them under control.
As a parent, it’s important to keep yourself informed about mental health, where you can access help if needed and know the signs to look for in others. For instance, a child with a deteriorating state of mental health can exhibit the symptoms in different ways, such as eating disorders or shifting behaviour patterns.
Building good communication with your child, being present and willing to talk about any issues your child is facing or is concerned about is vital – and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you suspect there is a problem.
Make time to talk
I’ve been a GP for around 25 years and in that time, I’ve seen an improvement in the way we talk about mental health, but we still have a long way to go. If you notice your child is struggling emotionally, take a step back and find an opportunity to open up a conversation about how they’re feeling.
There is so much truth in the old adage “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Sometimes just being able to talk about our feelings is enough to relieve some of the pressure. Often, vocalising a worry, however big or small, relieves the sense of loneliness we get when we’re faced with coping with something alone.
If things are more serious, I’d recommend booking an appointment with your GP as he or she can offer advice and guidance on counselling and other support services available for young people.
Alternatively, why not consider a health cash plan, such as Simplyhealth, which can offer peace of mind for the whole family, with quick and easy access to telephone counselling and advice, 24 hours a day.
Many of us, adults and children alike, spend a lot of time sitting down and it’s not healthy. But the good news is, we don’t all have to become marathon runners to improve our health and wellbeing – unless of course, we want to – we just need to MOVE more!
Not only will you and your children see the physical health benefits that exercise brings, adding regular workouts into your family’s routine can help to get your endorphins flowing and benefit mental wellbeing, while helping to manage issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.
Although busy work schedules and lack of childcare can make finding time to exercise with your children challenging, it’s important to find easy ways to incorporate it into your day to day routine.
Some simple ideas to try include taking time out from tech and opting for a walk after dinner instead of heading directly for the television or signing up to local charity walks or junior park runs at the weekend!
Ensure your children get enough shut-eye
Sleep not only plays a vital role in balancing hormones and restoring the immune system, but it’s also important for various aspects of brain function including cognition, concentration and productivity.
Aim for around 8 hours of sleep a night. That said, if your child’s alarm goes off and they still have a notable lack of energy or spend the day longing for a chance to nap, it’s a sign that they probably need more sleep.
Top tip: a room temperature of 18C is perfect for helping us to drift off, and a glass of milk may also help – for children as well as adults!
Don’t forget to crack a smile
Remember, that living healthily should be a pleasure, not a chore and that we can affect so much with our mindset.
So, try to spend a little time with your children every day doing something that makes them smile – whether it’s reading their favourite book, watching a film or even going for a jog together!
When you crack a smile, it affects certain muscles which release a chemical called endorphins which not only trigger a positive feeling and improve your mood but can also help to lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels.
Dr Dawn Harper, Simplyhealth.
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