What is Mental Health?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means paying more attention to the present moment (rather than worrying about what happened yesterday or what is going to happen tomorrow), to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – which as a result, can improve your mental wellbeing.
Supporting your little one’s mental health is about paying attention to their minds, emotions and their moods.
Why is it important to talk to your child about feelings and emotions?
Putting names to feelings is a great way to help develop a sense of self-awareness early on. Helping little ones understand why different situations make them feel a certain way makes it easier for them to deal with their emotions. Having that familiarity and understanding of our emotions and reactions helps develop a greater sense of empathy for others too.
How do you talk to your little ones about feelings and emotions?
It’s important to give examples of yourself when explaining emotions and feelings to your child as it normalises those emotions/feelings, which is a positive thing. For example: I feel really loved when you give me a hug. Keeping it reciprocal and relatable is important. Sharing how you feel and/or have felt is so powerful and can really encourage them to open up. Switching the perspective can help too as they seem to sometimes find it easier to recognise emotions or behaviours in others, either through actions or expressions, which can also help further develop that sense of empathy.
By asking questions you can also give them opportunities to express themselves: ‘How do you feel when…’
How can you help them to describe how and what they feel?
Begin by explaining that we all have lots of different emotions and feelings. Suggest trying to think of some together and start off by giving an example (you can even use facial expressions): “I feel happy – when the sun is shining” Try to include: sad, angry, scared, worried, loved.
Try using a cut-out figure or a doll to help your child identify where in their body they feel these emotions – they can point to the relevant places. Start with something they can easily relate to, for example, ‘where do you feel it when you’re hungry?’ – point to the tummy area. Continue going through some other emotions/feelings.
Go on to explain that when you notice a feeling in your body you can do something positive about it, for example using breathing techniques to calm your mind and body.
Share books with them that focus on our feelings and emotions.
What to do when you know something is bothering them but they won’t open up?
Create a space between you and your little one that is honest and sincere and give your undivided attention so you can listen to them without any distractions (no phones, make eye contact etc.)
You can also do something creative together. Often children start to talk when they’re relaxed. Colour in a mandala together or mould some clay. Mandalas can help children to organise their thoughts and feelings as well as having a calming effect.
Show empathy and give examples from your own life of when you felt sad and how it helped when you talked to someone about it. It really helps them to hear how you might have experienced a certain situation – that sense of normalising and relating is important.
Also, give it time and know it may not all come out at once. Keep the line of communication open so when they’re ready to talk they know you’re there.
How can you set them a good example – how do you talk to them about your feelings?
Try and explain how you are feeling in certain situations and why. You don’t have to do this in every situation, but try and be open, honest and prepared to share how you are feeling. This will encourage them and give them confidence to do the same.
Parents and mental health – what can you do for your own mental health and why is it important to take care of it?
If you take care of yourself, you’re much more likely to be successful at taking care of others.
- Get outdoors – walk amongst trees if you can (forest bathing). This is excellent for our mental health.
- Practice meditation or breathing exercises at intervals throughout the day.
- Be mindful of how much time you are spending on the computer/phone. If it helps, set a timer to alert you of when you’d like to switch off.
- Gratitude – each day choose one thing that you were grateful for that day.
- Try to have a positive attitude. This will have a knock-on effect to your kids.
- Try your best (when you can) to focus on one thing at a time rather than multi-tasking.
How can you introduce mindfulness to your little ones?
Start by explaining that sometimes our minds get too busy or unsettled. For example, when we’re nervous or worried about something or even if we’re late for school.
Then try and show them how to be in the present moment and appreciate what is around us.
Introduce a night-time routine you can practice together with them: put a tiny drop of lavender oil on your wrists and run your finger up (while breathing in) and down (while breathing out) on your other hand. You can also discuss why are you grateful for each day so you can end the day in a positive and calm way.
Mindfulness exercises for adults and little ones
Feather breathing: Sit down with your little one and blow a feather in to the air and see where it lands. You can also do this exercise before going to sleep: by blowing the feather away you can symbolically blow a bad day/dreams/fears away.
3:5 breathing: Count 3 seconds while breathing in, and 5 seconds while breathing out. The long out breath tells your body to relax.
Recommended books for parents and children
- Sitting Like a Frog by Eline Snel
- Glad to be Dan by Jo Howarth & Jude Lennon
- Today I feel silly by Jamie Lee Curtis
- Glad Monster, Sad Monster by Ed Emberley and Anne Miranda
- All About Feelings by Felicity Brooks and Frankie Allen