Mental health education is something that’s missing on the school curriculum, and that’s a shame. We teach our kids that working out is healthy, that they need to brush their teeth and what foods are good for them, but shouldn’t we also teach them about feelings, and how our behavior affects others? Educating your child about mental health can help them ahead in the world. I will give you some tips on how you can teach your child about mental health.
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How can I educate my child about mental health?
There are several ways you can educate your child about mental health. I found a few ways that work best for different age groups.
Mental health education for children age 6-12
Children in this age group won’t be able to fully understand the depths of mental health and everything associated with it, but you can still teach them about mental health in a playful way. During these years children start learning about themselves and the world, and it’s important that they learn that someone cares about them and that their feelings are valid and that it’s ok to talk about their emotions.
You can teach your child about emotions with these flashcards, Or you can make it a fun activity and make flashcards yourself! Instead of asking your child how school was you can ask him what emotion card best describes his mood, and you can talk about how he feels about it. It’s a fun way to bond with your child while he learns that emotions are normal. Around this age children start to associate emotions with good or bad. Explain to your child that emotions change all the time and that all feelings are a part of life.
Arts and crafts
Another fun way for your child to learn about mental health is by doing fun arts and crafts activities together. Draw facial expressions on a bear for example. At this age children start to learn about self-esteem, you can help them by telling that things don’t have to be perfect. Another fun activity is to let your child scribble something and turn it into something beautiful together; you can teach your child that making mistakes is ok because it can always be fixed.
In this age group, children depend a lot on the safety that their parents give them. You can teach your children that they can also create this feeling themselves. Children will often already do that; think about how you crawled under the covers when you were scared or put your hands in front of your eyes when you saw something scary. You can teach your child that they can ‘create’ a safe place, a ‘hideaway.’ A fun way to do this is by making a blanket fort, or if you want a more permanent spot, you can get a teepee. Whenever your child feels overwhelmed or needs some alone time, he can crawl into his safe place and recharge.
Behavioral effects on others
It’s still hard for your child to understand their behavior on other children at this age but you can show them this little experiment. You take a regular piece of paper and ask your child to crumple and stomp on it; then you ask him to unfold it and smooth it out. He will realize that it’s not the same as before and this is the perfect opportunity to educate your child about what effects bullying and other bad behavior can have on other people.
Teaching mental health by reading
Children love stories, so what better way to teach children about mental health by reading to them.
This book teaches children about mental illness in a fun and friendly way with cute illustrations. If you want to teach your children about mindfulness then this is a great book, it comes with a fun card game that encourages kids to learn mindfulness skills.
Child yoga and mindfulness
Children love to play and like to be involved with whatever their parents are doing. Next time you practice yoga, include your child. Explain that mommy is trying to be healthy and encourage your child to follow your lead. A friend of mine recently told me this story how she was meditating with a closed door, and her children kept knocking, so she opened the door and explained that she was trying to make room in her head by being really quiet and she encouraged her kids to do it with her. Lots of habits are formed in the early years, the sooner your child learns to take care of their mental health, the better. Read my article about mindfulness if you are not familiar with this technique yet.
Make a self-care list with your child. Think of fun ways that your child can relax and wind down after a busy school day. Help mom bake cookies, watch Dora or go for a walk with the dog. Make the list beautiful with glitter and colors and hang it up somewhere for easy access.
Mental health education for children age 13-18
At this age, you can start educating your child about mental illness and how to prevent it. If you suspect your child is having mental health issues, this is the time to encourage him to talk about it with a school counselor or therapist. As much as you want to help your child, sometimes it’s easier to talk to a third person.
Educating about mental illness
It’s vital that your child understands that mental illness is not someone’s fault, it can be a combination of genetics, childhood, social circles, physical illness, experiences, etc. Mental illness is not contagious, and people with mental illness are rarely dangerous. If you educate your child about mental illness it’s best to explain that mental illness is the same as any other illness, it’s just harder to see.
- Educating your child about depression
Tell him that people with depression feel sad a lot of times because the brain is missing certain hormones that make you happy. These missing hormones make depressed people very tired, and they don’t want to do a lot of things. They don’t want to feel sad, but they can’t help it, and even though exercise, self-care, and healthy living will improve their situation, it’s not a cure.
- Educating your child about anxiety disorders
If you want to teach your child about anxiety disorders, you can tell that the brain of someone with anxiety is like a sensitive alarm that keeps going off. People with anxiety had a bad experience in the past, and now the brain keeps telling them they are in danger. Ask your child to think about a time they felt scared, and explain that people with anxiety always feel like that. It’s hard to beat an anxiety disorder because humans are wired to avoid dangerous situations if your brain keeps telling you are in danger, it’s hard to confront it.
- Educating your child about bipolar disorder
People with bipolar disorder have a hormonal imbalance. You can tell your child that people with bipolar disorder feel very low at times, Their energy levels are low, they feel sad and don’t know what they want anymore. Other times they feel very high, and they are full of energy and excited about all the things in life. Bipolar disorder is very complicated, but it’s enough for your child to know that bipolar disorder causes periods of highs and lows and periods of neutral moods, these periods can rapidly shift, stay for a more extended period or even appear at the same time. Bipolar disorder can be managed with medication and therapy. A life chart can be used to keep track of the disorder.
- Educating your child about personality disorders
There are several kinds of personality disorders, but one thing is the same for all of them, people with a personality disorder reach a moment in their life where they realize their coping mechanism is failing them. They lose friends, have trouble handling emotions or can’t keep a schedule. However, this is not their fault. People with a personality disorder missed something in their childhood; they had to survive, so they came up with something that helped them. They no longer need it in adult life, but they are still missing the basic needs, safety, self-love or something else their parents were supposed to teach them.
There is a stigma on personality disorders, for a wrong reason. People with personality disorders just want to survive, they want to fit in, and they do this in a way they know best. If you’re going to explain personality disorders to a child, you can start by telling how everyone is different and people act a certain way to survive. They do what they feel is best, but sometimes that is not actually what is best for them anymore, and they need to find a different way to make up for what they missed in their childhood.
Educate your child about self-love
Before you can love someone else, you need to love yourself first.
When educating your child about mental health make sure to include self-love. The teenage years are very hard on children, they look at others and wonder if they are good enough, Social media plays a big part in this. Here are a few tips that can help boost your child’s self-esteem
- Encourage your child to pursue their interests; They learn what they like, and by finishing what they started, they build healthy habits and the feeling they accomplished something. The satisfaction of reaching a goal will give their self-esteem a fantastic boost.
- Show them the real story behind cover models; This video shows how real women are transformed into cover models with makeup and photoshop. Children should know that what they see in magazines and social media isn’t reality.
- Let them help; Give them chores, explain that you aren’t doing it to punish them, but to teach them they can do it. Let them cook a meal, or make the bed. Explain that their help is valuable and they will be ready for when they move out.
- Let them make their own choices; Show them your trust, by letting them make their own decisions. It will boost their self-esteem if they know you believe in them. They will not always make the right choice, but that will also be a lesson.
Other helpful tools for mental health education
I gave several examples how you can educate your child about mental health, of course, you know what’s best for your child, and you will have to figure out what works. If you notice your child is having troubles don’t hesitate to contact a professional, they are trained to help you and your child and will always do what’s best for you and your family. Mental health education is very important for the development of children, start educating your child today.