Mental health is a part of life that is increasingly better understood, with a growing awareness that talking about our mental health and wellbeing is important, and promoting good mental health should happen from the earliest years of life.
Catholic Education Western Australia schools are committed to being environments where healthy and respectful relationships can thrive, where students can engage in meaningful learning, and can develop resilience and wellbeing.
We are also committed to working in close partnership with parents and carers, who are always the first educators of their children and a vital part of healthy school communities.
Here are some tips and concepts that may help you, as a parent or carer, in understanding and nurturing the mental health of your child.
What is mental health?
Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness, but the presence of mental wellbeing in our lives. Mental health can include feeling good about ourselves, feeling motivated, having enough energy to go about learning, working and playing, and feeling like our relationships with others are meaningful.
How can you promote the wellbeing and mental health of your child?
Be mindful of negativity-bias.
It is natural for us to think of the bad things that can happen to us, and in many cases this can keep us safe, but we need to be careful not to let this get in the way of seeing the good in life. You can encourage your child to take notice of the things that go well in their day and the things they are grateful for (gratitude accounts for 25% of our happiness).
“when your legs are tired riding, that’s your muscles getting stronger”
Help build resilience.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, and like a muscle, resilience can develop and grow through experience. You can start small in helping your child build resilience – something like being OK with forgetting a lunch box or losing a toy can help equip them for bigger adversities that will come up in life, such as health problems or break-downs in relationships. Resilience is an output, and can be developed by monitoring unhelpful or pessimistic thinking and promoting hope and optimism. You can also encourage a growth mindset by looking at adverse situations as opportunities for growth. For example, if your child is young and learning to ride a bike, and complains about feeling tired, you could frame this experience in a positive light by saying something like “when your legs are tired riding, that’s your muscles getting stronger”.
Learning through mistakes.
The way we talk about mistakes matters. You can talk to your child about mistakes being opportunities to learn from, rather than just as something bad to be avoided at all costs.
Being a strength-based parent means mirroring the qualities, skills and resources of your child when they are being their best self, and highlighting these strengths when things are not going well. For example, you can talk about how your child has a strength of courage at a time when they are feeling scared, or how kind they usually are when they are being unkind to a sibling.
gratitude accounts for 25% of our happiness
A positive personal relationship with your child will have huge benefits for their mental health. You can strengthen your relationship through ‘micro-moments’ of connection, starting with conversations that are inquisitive and open-ended rather than transactional. For example, at the end of the school day you can ask ‘what was the best part of your day?’ or ‘what was the most interesting thing you learned about?’ before questions like ‘did you eat your lunch?’ or ‘do you have homework?’.
Working with your child’s teachers
One of the strongest influences on your child’s sense of belonging at school is the relationship they have with their teachers – this has even more importance than their relationships with their friends. When parents and teachers work in partnership, this creates a sense of security for children as they see the important adults in their lives on the same page and modelling effective relationships.
It is also important to keep your school informed if there is anything out of the ordinary happening at home, for example the death of a grandparent, illness in the family or any stressful events. This will help your child’s teacher or teachers ensure they are being supported at school during difficult times.
Keeping in touch while away
Parents can worry about their children and digital technology, however this technology can be really valuable if you spend time away from home regularly for work, or if you do not live with your child’s other parent. Calling or video-calling regularly and showing interest in your child’s day, including school, can lead to positive outcome for their wellbeing and their learning outcomes.