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What about your child’s mental health?

It’s that time of year again. The papers have already done spreads on who did the best in the results for the year. As we speak Form 5/grade 12 students are on the verge of panic and anxiety attacks because they aren’t sure they did well. We’ve already seen the proud parents spending on their children who did well and some may have heard the parents whose kids didn’t do spit foul falsehoods about why their children didn’t do well in school. Since you’ve vowed to be a better version of yourself this year why not try to be a better parent to your children. And since they say “happy wife, happy life” why not try to create a happier environment for your children who are always your wife’s number one priority?

According to the Huffington Post, a lot of publications have a set method for writing their articles. First they “they pack their headline with as much punch as possible, soul search who to blame, then tail off when it comes to giving advice”; this method is especially true when it comes to research on mental health.

You see when it comes to mental health there is no one size fits all solution because different individuals have different things to be worried about. For children, some of the most popular things that are overlooked are discussions on their mental health, their body image and their anxiety. It is a regular occurrence that one person will look at another and say “you’re depressed? You don’t look depressed.” What have you got to be depressed about?”. You see when such a thing happens that person is using their own unit of measurement or their rulebook of life and not yours so there is a chance they will not understand what you are going through.

One popular opinion floating around is that black parents tend to ignore the mental health of their children. This would be true if they knew the details of mental health but it is nearly impossible to teach someone else on something you yourself are ignorant about. Some people are well educated and understand the concept behind depression and anxiety but choose to ignore it because it does not exist in their language or does not exist in their reality. The reality is that like any illness if mental health issues are ignored then the issue does not go away but escalates and might present itself as a violent outburst later on.

Martin Seager who is a psychologist and psychotherapist has been around the business for some 30 years and swears that each and every child has 5 psychological needs for their mental health.

To feel loved

If you’ve been around the internet long enough you will have encountered the idea of love languages. It is said everyone has a unique set of lave languages including children (even if theirs are yet to evolve). As loving as a parent can be they can try to give love to their children but that love may not always be received if it comes with terms and conditions. It is every parents’ responsibility to explain the idea that love manifests itself in different ways, this could be a hug or providing a safe space for them to confide in you without judgement, just make sure they understand that it does not always come wrapped in bows and roses. Explaining the different kinds of love when they are younger might help parents raise children and adults with more realistic ideas about love.

A sense of Belonging

Children, much like their parents want to fit in. They are constantly looking to be invited into circle of friends and want to feel welcome and wanted. But the feeling of belonging has to come from the inside and is not external to them. This feeling is what allows them to connect. If children are taught to subcontract their value to external things like their grades, their looks or how they are treated relative to other kids it strips the child of their power to validate themselves and gives that power to other people and taking that validation away becomes easy. When their confidence lies with them then they are able to pick and choose where they feel they belong and can go about it as they wish and find like-minded friends. Even celebrities despite their fame, fortune, popularity and power are susceptible to mental illness. While to everyone they appear to be high up on the food chain everything is redundant if they feel they don’t belong.

To be heard

Every parent is guilty of trying to calm their children down by shushing them and telling them to calm down and soothe them. Like with adults telling children to calm down doesn’t work very well either, in facts, it tends to escalate the situation and results in more aggression where it could have been avoided. While in some cases it may quieten down the child in the moment it will be the root cause for a frustrated parent who does not understand why their child refuses to talk to them when they are older. This poor communication is because the parent was unable to teach their child how to express their frustrations and always told them to lock their feelings inside and ignore them. In some cases, children resort to harmful behaviour as they grow up like smoking, drinking, sex and self-harm because it provides an escape and a means to vent their frustrations that they never had growing up. This is why education should go hand in hand with physical activities as this provides a nonverbal outlet for everyone, young and old, to vent out their internal turmoil. This can be through writing, music, art, volunteering, therapy, support, drama or any other activities that makes them feel like they now have platform on which to express themselves.

A meaningful life

Every child from the day they are born is taught to succeed. Their parents and relatives applaud their ability to speak, their ability to walk and their ability to follow orders. When they get to school their success is measured on their scholastic excellence and their performance in sports. In some cases, their failure is ridiculed or even punished which creates individuals who do not know what to do with their failure. They equate their success to tangible things like the number of zeros on their bank statement, the model of car they drive, theirs and their partners’ professions and the kind of lifestyle they live, whether they can afford it or not becomes inconsequential. These people never quite learn from their failures because they are taught to live with a singular destination in mind and only think being happy comes with that destination. Some adults never clue into the fact that the destination is only one small part of the journey and that life itself is a consecutive line-up of journeys and finding happiness within those journeys. So it is imperative to teach them to live in the moment and learn not to worry about things that haven’t yet happened. If you do that then you likely need less coping mechanisms

A sense of Achievement

So your child didn’t crack the top 10 on their final report card but your neighbours daughter did even though you feel your child carries a superior intellect. Its likely that you will spend many years of your child’s impressionable years convincing them that they aren’t good enough because you constantly compare them to the children of others not realizing that perhaps it’s no your child’s potential that is the problem but your expectations. In some cases, children become incapable of doing certain things because their parents never focused on improving what they were capable of but focused more on the children of others. As a parent, it is your job to encourage your child. Try to understand whatever it is that happened and even if they do come dead last focus on congratulating them for the fact that they followed through with their effort. Sometimes we fail to understand that sometimes all a child or human can do is the bare minimum. It helps to try to understand how to parent in each scenario.

It might take a village to raise, and even damage, a child but it takes a few simple things to improve your child’s wellbeing. Why not be that parent who raises a healthy well-adjusted person. It may help you, in the long run, to introduce your child to the idea of mental health, or take them for an evaluation with a trained psychologist, psychiatrist or anyone who can help you figure out what your child needs in the long run. Sure religion works, but are really willing to put everything in the hands of God when he put people on earth to help you help your child?

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