The Role Parents Play In Promoting Positive Mental Health – Jennifer Oaten

Every parent wants their child to flourish, to succeed and to have a happy life, but life comes with challenges. Challenges are often out of our control, unexpected and are something we need to be able to work through. As a parent, we play a huge role in supporting our child’s ability to work through these challenges and nurture positive wellbeing and mental health. Building a strong foundation and helping your child develop the social and emotional skills needed to work through these challenges is a crucial part of being a parent. This is more relevant than ever before with the complex world our young people will need to navigate.

Although Santa Maria College has a Mental Health Strategy and we promote positive mental health, it is ultimately a collaboration between the school and parents. Parents have an equally important role to play.

11 ways parents can support our efforts to boost students' mental health

1. Foster self-acceptance. Parents may provide a powerful impetus in promoting self-acceptance and high self-esteem by encouraging young people to pursue interests and skills while also stressing the value of setting realistic objectives and developing efficient methods to achieve them. Parents can facilitate a positive self-image that will help young navigate challenges more effectively.

2. Discuss difficult emotions. Understand social norms and provide them with the skills necessary to tackle difficult emotions when they surface. Talk to your child about their feelings and encourage them to express them in healthy ways, such as through art, music, or writing. Look for ways to check in with your teen. When they open up to you, you can respond with “I understand”, “it sounds like a difficult situation”, or “that makes sense”. Remind them that you are there for them, no matter what, and that you want to hear how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Being aware and taking notice of the little things teaches us to be conscious of our mental and emotional states. Talking about what we are grateful for is also known to promote positive wellbeing. As parents, we can share what we are grateful for.

3. Build Relationships. Research shows that healthy family relationships can reduce the chances of a teenager experiencing mental health issues. Making time for the important people in our lives and having positive relationships with friends, family, peers, and staff is essential for mental wellbeing. Encourage your child to make new friendships and maintain an active connection with their friends. This connection helps them develop a sense of belonging. Help them foster meaningful relationships with others by encouraging them to be active members of the school community, a sports team, volunteer, or just by making time for family. Understanding how to resolve conflict in relationships is also crucial.

4. Promote healthy coping skills to deal with stress and anxiety. If your teen feels frustrated, work with them to brainstorm solutions to problems. Ask your child how they will resolve conflict for themselves. They also need to understand everyone gets stressed at times, and some stress is good stress and helps us to perform at our optimum. Talking about the worst-case scenario can also help put things in perspective.

5. Ensure sufficient good quality sleep. Sleep is essential for positive mental health. The most significant influence on good quality sleep is mobile phones and social media, which may ‘ping’ all night long. When teenagers become stressed or down, they may also sleep more, turning their sleep patterns upside down. They might sleep all day and be awake all night. Getting young people to readjust to a circadian sleep pattern will significantly improve their mental wellbeing. Quality sleep is so important for so many aspects of life. Family expectations of no technology in bedrooms is one way parents can ensure their child gets sufficient, quality sleep. This is critical to good learning, good decisions and positive wellbeing.

6. Limit screen time. Interacting virtually through texting, social networking, or gaming sites is the new norm. Add to this online bullying, increased exposure to violence and inappropriate body images; it is not difficult to understand why today’s kids struggle to establish and maintain good mental health. Excessive screen time leads to inactivity, wasted time causing stress with school assessments, lack of time building face-to-face relationships and most importantly, lack of sleep. This is one of the biggest challenges for parents but can have the biggest impact on mental health.

7. Avoid power struggles. With the world feeling unpredictable, and right now, teens might be struggling to be in control. As difficult as it can be in the moment, empathise with their desire to assert control rather than attempting to overpower their opinions. Never discuss an issue while you are angry. Walk away, take a breath; you can talk with your teen about it later, and you will have a much more productive conversation when you are both calm. This shows your teenager how you manage your emotions.

8. Encouraging them to be active. Whether through sport, dance or any other physical activity. Co-curricular activities at school and beyond provide many opportunities and have been linked to a decreased risk of mental illness. Encouraging your child to get involved in activities they are passionate about can help them feel more connected to their school and peer group and enable them to develop confidence and feel valued for their abilities. The outdoors is a great place for promoting wellbeing.

9. Volunteer together. It is gratifying when we give our time and energy to help someone else. It provides us with a sense of meaning and purpose. Volunteering or giving time to a cause your child feels strongly about and showing kindness will help your child understand empathy. Helping them find ways to contribute to their community will ensure they feel valued and can help build stronger relationships with parents.

10. Modelling positive mental health. Parents can support the school’s efforts by modelling healthy habits for their children. Parents should take care of their own mental health, practice stress management, and make time for leisure activities. By modelling these behaviours, parents can show their children that taking care of their mental health is important and that while we may have stressful days, we can work through them.

11. Work in partnership. Work with the school and other professionals to support your child’s mental health. The most important thing parents can do is be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Mental illness can manifest in many ways, so it is important to be vigilant for changes in your child’s behaviour. If you are concerned about your child, talk to a child’s Dean or a College Psychologist. Seek professional help if you are worried about your child.

While some of these suggestions are challenging to implement, it is far more challenging to resolve complex mental health issues once they arise. Prevention is a far better option. A child’s good mental health is a very elusive concept because kids are constantly changing, growing and developing, so we need to be flexible depending on a child’s needs.

Let’s partner together, parents and educators, to ensure our children have the knowledge and skills to manage their wellbeing, tackle challenges and thrive in school and life. 

By working together, we can help your child thrive.

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