May is National Mental Health Awareness Month! This year, IDEA is participating in National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month, which seeks to raise awareness about the importance of children’s mental health and show that positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development.
While everyone has been impacted by the events of the last 12 months, they have been particularly hard for kids. Our children and youth have been able to spend more time with their parents or primary caregivers. However, many are grieving the loss of peer interaction, social connection and time spent in person with other vital, caring adults. Many children have missed out on important rites of passage and lost loved ones or friends as well.
At IDEA, the mental health of our students is just as important as physical health. We aim to prioritize social-emotional learning programs that support the evolving needs of students and empower them to navigate their emotions and behaviors. Below, we will discuss a number of topics related to mental health to help you learn how you can support your child’s mental health at home and in school.
What is Children’s Mental Health?
Your child’s emotional wellbeing is just as important as their physical health. Mental health is important because it affects how your child thinks, feels, acts and learns. Mental health also impacts how children handle stress and how they relate to others.
Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults. Mentally healthy children feel good about their lives and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities. When a child is mentally healthy, they are able to learn the skills needed to be successful in and out of school and can bounce back (cope) when they face problems.
What are Some Common Mental Health Issues?
Most children grow up mentally healthy, but we are learning that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago. Some of this is because of how our culture has changed, and some of this is because we talk about mental health more now. Here are some common mental health issues children and youth face:
Depression: feeling down, hopeless, low energy, loss of interest in daily activities, sleeping more than usual.
Anxiety: excessive worry about assignments, attending school, fear of speaking up in class or attending social events, feelings as if the heart racing and having difficulty breathing.
How Can I Support my Child’s Mental Health at Home?
Now, we’ll talk about some basics you can do to promote good mental health at home. You may already do most or all of these!
Promote Physical Wellness
The foundation of good mental health is good physical health. As a parent, you can support this by helping your child access nutritious food and get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Good physical health helps to protect against the stress of tough situations. Regular exercise also decreases negative emotions such as anxiety, anger and depression.
Communicate Your Unconditional Love
Children need to hear that your love does not depend on their accomplishments, grades or success in sports. When your child makes a mistake, loses a game, or gets a low grade on an assignment, tell your child that these are things that happen to everyone in life and you love them for who they are no matter what.
Build Up Your Child’s Confidence and Self-Esteem
The best way to promote children’s mental health is to build up their strengths. Praise your child when they try new things or work hard on a task. When you make a mistake or a failure as a parent, be honest with your child to show them that even adults aren’t perfect. Encourage your child to both do their best and enjoy trying new things. Trying new activities teaches children about teamwork, effort and helps them to build new skills.
Address the Behavior, Not the Child
When your child makes a poor choice, emphasize that you are disappointed in their actions, not who they are as a person. Instead of staying, “You are a bad kid,” say “You made a bad decision.”
Be a Role Model in Talking About Feelings
Talk about your own feelings, apologize, don’t express anger with violence and use active problem-solving skills. Let your children know that everyone experiences pain, fear, sadness, worry and anger and that these emotions are a normal part of life; encourage them to talk about their concerns and to express their emotions.
Listen, Talk, Reassure and Consult
- Listen to what your child is saying. Allow them time to process and say what is on their mind. Use curiosity with your child and make sure that you are genuinely interested when they approach you.
- Talk problems out in a calm manner. Use “I statements” to explain your perspective. For example, instead of saying, “Why are spending all your time sleeping instead of doing work?” say, “I feel worried that you are sleeping so much and have missed some of your assignments. Is there anything you want to talk about?”
- Reassure your child that feelings are normal, and you support them, love them and want to keep them safe.
- Consult with a professional if problems continue.
When Is It Time to Ask for Help?
Parents and family members are usually the first to notice if a child has problems with emotions or behavior. Your observations with those of teachers and other caregivers may lead you to seek help for your child. If you suspect a problem or have questions, consult your pediatrician, or contact a mental health professional.
The following signs may indicate the need for professional assistance or evaluation. If a person is experiencing several at one time and the symptoms are causing serious problems at school and/or home, professional help is needed.
- Decline in school performance
- Regular worry or anxiety
- Repeated refusal to go to school or take part in normal children’s activities
- Hyperactivity or fidgeting
- Persistent nightmares
- Frequent temper tantrums or inappropriate anger
- Appetite changes
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Not wanting to spend time with friends or enjoying activities
- Depression, sadness or irritability
The following signs indicate a definitive need for professional assistance:
- Intentional self-injury
- Child shares that they are having suicidal thoughts (thoughts of dying or wanting to die)
You can speak with a number of people to ask for support:
- Your child’s doctor
- Mental health hotlines and text lines
- Your local mobile crisis unit
- 911 for immediate emergencies
- Your school academic counselor
What Supports are Offered at IDEA Public Schools?
At IDEA, we also believe that your child’s mental health and social emotional wellness matter. To support your child’s social emotional needs, we have adopted the “Move This World” social emotional learning curriculum across our campuses. Move This World uses interactive videos, movement and creative expression to help students develop emotional intelligence skills for long-term wellbeing.
Schools implement Move This World’s curriculum into their day with short evidence-based videos that introduce a common language and methods for identifying, regulating and expressing emotions. Move This World’s programs help students to develop deeper self-awareness, higher self-esteem and self-confidence, stronger relationships, stress management, effective communication and a culture of safety and support.
Finally, every campus has an academic counselor onsite who is available to support you in finding resources to help with your child’s mental health and social emotional well-being. Contact them if you have any questions or need support in meeting your child’s mental health needs.
You can also contact national and state helplines if you need help navigating resources to support your child.
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- OK2TALK Teen Helpline: 1-800-273-TALK
- Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- Crisis Text Line – Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous and free crisis counseling