By Julieanne Pojas, PsyD 

Mental health is an integral part of children’s overall health. However, strong mental health starts prior to stepping into a therapist’s office. Children who practice mental health skills regularly could reduce their risk for mental illness and relapse.

General guidelines for youth mental health:

Teach them compassion and gratitude

Teaching children how to be compassionate towards others inspires this behavior towards themselves. Encourage your child to be kind and caring to others by modeling unconditional acceptance. Acknowledge and admit your own mistakes in front of your kid. When they go through rough times, teach them to take the time to take care of themselves to re-energize.

Teaching your child how to express gratitude helps them to reframe their experiences in a positive way. Express things you are grateful for in front of your child. Ask children to list three things they are grateful for daily or develop a gratitude journal.

Encourage them to find purpose and meaning

Help your child find intrinsic value in what they do and live a life that is meaningful and productive. Encourage them to think about ways they can use their personal strengths and skills to create positive change in the world and society, which can be done through early involvement in volunteering. You can. Although your child’s purpose may change as they get older, it is most important that they continue to have a focus or ‘mission statement’ for their life.

Develop humor

Help your child develop good humor by modeling laughter and spontaneity. This will help your child challenge negative thoughts and tolerate emotional pain. Through acknowledging a smile and returning this emotion, brain chemistry is altered and one achieves a natural high more pleasurable than eating chocolate, receiving money, drinking coffee, or shopping. Teaching them how to have a good sense of humor helps them to be less stressed, more confident, and more resilient.

Establish a sense of community

Having mutually beneficial relationships is crucial to your child’s well being. We achieve a sense of belonging by offering support and seeking support from others. Children with a strong sense of community have an easier time seeking our help for themselves. They can build this relationship by connecting with a religious community or cultural group, or joining a special interest club. Children benefit from being reminded that they are beloved for who they are not just admired for what they do.

Encourage optimal physical health

Good diet and exercise is necessary for overall health. Encourage your children to eat fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, unprocessed foods, and to eliminate refined carbohydrates. As exercise enhances action of endorphins and improves mood and increases self esteem, model appropriate levels of physical activity. Children require 60 minutes of daily aerobic activity, which can be achieved through regular family walks.

Dr. Pojas and Dr. Alden will be teaching a webinar through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website for clinicians to learn how to manage anger in children and teens with anxiety disorders. To access the webinar, go to: ADAA – Webinar for Professionals: Clinical Kung Fu.