With Mental Awareness Week culminating worldwide on October 10, conversations concerning psychological states and wellbeing have been aplenty and productive. However, as encouraging as they may be — with society realizing that mental health is a serious issue and not a person's imaginings — the efforts of late have been mainly associated with adults.
Here's the reality, though: mental health problems can occur at any age, even among children and teens. Critically too, during this life stage, experiences can significantly influence how the brain develops and, therefore, build solid foundations of mental health for the rest of one's life.
An expert from Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed), a top hospital in the Philippines, says that it is in the hands of parents and guardians to raise children who can solve problems and cope with hardships.
"Support from the adults around them can help children become more resilient and develop the courage and confidence to be prepared for any life challenges," elaborates Anna Josefina Vazquez-Genuino, MD, a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist of MakatiMed's Psychiatry Department.
The doctor shares with The Manila Times Lifestyle the following and varied approaches that parents and guardians may want to consider in their common goal of raising mentally healthy children.
Learning from mistakes. Kids should be assured that it is alright to make mistakes, but they also need to learn not to make the same mistakes repeatedly. "Failing can be an educational experience, teaching kids how to become stronger and wiser in facing life challenges," says Dr. Vazquez-Genuino. She adds that sometimes what we think was a mistake might turn out to be an opportunity for success.
Accepting the consequences of mistakes. When children make mistakes, let them be, the doctor advises. "Saving a child from even the slightest discomfort can make them dependent on you in solving their every problem, and it won't help them build mental muscle in the long run," she explains.
The role and attitude of parents towards allowing kids to make mistakes evolve depending on the child's age for their own safety. While parents should keep an eye on young children at all times, Dr. Vazquez-Genuino says they may gradually give some freedom to preschoolers between three to six years old, like allowing them to decide what to wear or what toy to play with.
For elementary school children, they may start giving them more responsibilities such as preparing their school bag, cleaning their room, helping with household chores, and taking care of their younger siblings.
We are not the mistakes we make. It is also important not to blame, find fault, or rub in a child's errors because they may affect their confidence. Moreover, doing so might cause them to be afraid to open up, besides possibly becoming sad and seeing themselves as a failure.
Listen to what they are saying and how they are feeling. Children need to learn how to accept and deal with uncomfortable emotions, be it on their own or in seeking help from others.
This doesn't mean that children should be left on their own when dealing with their feelings. Parents should talk to them and ask what happened that made them feel upset or sad. Listen to what they are saying and how they are feeling, read their nonverbal signals, and accept how they are reacting.
Be a role model. Children also learn how to cope and react to upsetting events in the same way their parents or adults around them behave in similar situations. Parents, therefore, have to be careful not to wallow in anger and resentment or become overwhelmed by their anxiety and fears and definitely avoid self-pity when around their children if they don't want them to do the same when faced with problems.
It may not be as emphasized, but the mental health of a child is as important as their physical wellbeing. By providing children with the necessary tools — including professional help if necessary — to cope with their emotions and problems, parents and guardians can be sure they are providing them a good head start in life.
"If your child continues to feel anxious or sad after a week or two, then perhaps it is time to seek professional help to offer an objective perspective, provide a new outlook and facilitate resolution of the situation," Dr. Vazquez-Genuino concludes.
If your child is in a constant state of depression or acting differently, call 8-888-8999 for help.