Expert / 15 February, 2022 / Ellie Thompson
When it comes to your supporting your child’s mental health, communication is always key. We asked the experts from KidsCoachApp for a few pointers on how to best communicate with our children to support their mental health as they grow.
The NHS says there is “No health without Mental Health.” Mental health is just as important as physical health but can feel harder to work on. It feels fluffier and harder to get your arms around it.?
My wife and I have been pinning it down at home with our young kids, simply through conversations. We’ve found that having a quick chat with them on a daily basis and on a variety of topics seems to work wonders.? Read on for some handy tips on what works for us and what you can use immediately with your kids at home too!
We’ve also found the way you phrase it matters. This is why we wrote hundreds of questions and prompts that work for other parents to try out – free to download all in the handy KidCoachApp).
Psychologist and parenting coach Dr Maryhan Baker says “Children learn more from what they see, then what we say, so if we don’t use an extensive emotional vocabulary with our children they are unlikely to acquire the skills themselves. So, do not be afraid to verbally label your frustration when you are stuck in traffic, or feeling jealous of a friend who might be going somewhere lovely on holiday. The key is to also state positively how you will manage these emotions, for example, by listening to the radio in the car to distract you from the traffic, or daydreaming of your own future holiday somewhere nice.”
By showing our kids that feelings are natural and not something to hide, we improve their confidence.
Little kiddos have a ton of emotions floating around their heads. It’s often hard for kids to process them. Because of this, our kids can be emotional and upset not knowing why.
Simply labelling those emotions helps them start organising their thoughts and lets them know that they are all OK to have. So start by asking “Can you name 10 different emotions?” Labelling brings it under control!
Want to improve your kid’s confidence and mood? Make it clear that emotions are welcome here – it’s one of the best ways for supporting your child’s mental health.
I caught up recently with Dr Kate Cross, an Educational and Child Psychologist and valued member of the KidCoach Advisory Board. Her biggest point was to validate the feelings of our children and make them know that they are all OK to have. She said: “It’s OK to feel angry. It’s OK to feel sad. It is OK to feel your feelings! Your reaction afterwards may not be OK, if you hit someone for example, but we are all allowed to have ‘negative’ feelings from time to time”.
One popular question from the KidCoachApp is “Is it OK to cry?” It’s a simple conversation designed to demonstrate that – yes! – it is OK to cry, or to be angry, or jealous etc. This link opens up the full card for you to see all the prompts and guidance notes we have written to help you have this chat.
Questions like this will help you clearly demonstrate that there are no negative emotions and all are OK to have.
Neda Mulji, author of The Love Connection says “The answer is not to withhold affection and privilege, but to make life easier for the child by showing kindness, compassion and empathy. Children who grow up with kind and loving adults are generally calm and giving; they do not overreact when faced with difficult circumstances, nor do they get frustrated easily when others don’t fulfil their expectations.”
We want to keep showing up for our kids, making them feel safe and secure. Spending just five minutes a day to check-in and have a quick chat with our kiddos creates a healthy bond between us. No matter what challenges they are going through they will know that they can come to us and we are there for them.
It’s one reason why I created the KidCoachApp, taking the pressure out of deciding what to talk about, and enjoying our conversations with kids instead. Above is an example of a conversation card we created for busy parents to spend time having daily conversations with their kids.
Talking to parenting coach Cathy about this approach she was hugely supportive: “When the lines of dialogue are open and being used, with children regularly talking to parents about all sorts of things, children are more likely to come to you with anything that is troubling them.”
I like the notion of being on the same level as the kids. If we can be their “peer” not their “parent” then we are really empowering them, building bags of confidence and resilience along the way.
So maybe you want to ask your kids challenging “grown-up” questions and see what they have to say? Let them know their thoughts and voices are valued. Their opinion matters.
(If this feels way different to the way you were brought up, and you feel you might need to unlearn a few things before trying this yourself, then you might find this article on “Reparenting” helpful.)
Otherwise, you can crack on today. Ask them to solve a big problem like the question about traffic on the roads above and see what they say. Who knows, your kids may come up with a whizzbang idea that will completely blow your socks off!
By the way, lots more questions like this in this MyBaba article on having more meaningful conversations with children.
Mindfulness is pretty hot right at the moment. I love that kids are getting introduced to this nowadays. It teaches kids emotional resilience and helps them find the strength to deal with their emotions head-on and manage themselves.
If you are new to mindfulness here is a handy guide by My Baba and Dr Cope, the UK’s first Doctor of Happiness on how to implement mindfulness daily, no matter what emotions you or your children are facing. I quite like this bit:
“Spend time breathing well, every day. Here’s how. Sit with feet on ground and straight back. Wear a small smile (and your clothes, obviously. Meditating while naked still works, but it’s embarrassing if your mum comes in). Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds, hold it for 6 seconds and out through your mouth for 7. Easy enough to remember: 5 in, 6 hold, 7 out.”
A core component of mindfulness is Breathing. Just talking to our kids about the simple power of taking 10 long, slow and deep breaths equips them with a valuable self-management tool for life.
By the way – mindfulness can also be a family activity. Spread the peaceful vibes and meditate together. We understand being a parent is stressful sometimes, I feel you. Mindfulness can help you also take a breather now and then!
When it comes to supporting your child’s mental health, we parents are on the front lines with our children and can best understand what’s going on in their heads. Oftentimes this can happen with some simple and well-chosen questions.
Being a child is hard at the best of times and the Covid period they have all gone through has made it even harder. So I hope the five simple tips we shared with the conversation prompts help you and your children in the months to come.
To have all the prompts in the palm of your hand, do consider downloading the KidCoachApp from the Apple or Google store. You can get started for free and join thousands of other parents who are having more meaningful conversations with their children.