Although we often only start to address mental health in the early teenage or adult years, our mental health journey begins way before that. In light of the 2021 WA Mental Health Week theme, we will be covering how “mental health starts with our children”. We will also provide tips to support mental health in the early stages of infancy and beyond.
So, how does mental health REALLY begin in infancy?
Let’s hear from Dr Jelena Parry – Paediatric Osteopath and Founder of Happy Hearts (powered by Happiness Co).
According to Dr Parry, mental health begins in the early days of infancy and technically begins in-utero before the baby is born (as the development of the brain is affected by maternal stress). AKA, stay calm mamas-to-be, your baby is not only affected by what you do and eat, but by what you feel!
As your child is born and grows up with your guidance, they continue to be affected by your actions and responses to their emotional needs. To support this effectively, Dr Parry recommends a nurturing and responsive parenting style that acknowledges the parent’s role of support. In doing so you are able to properly guide an underdeveloped brain and support emotional wellbeing.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, babies’ and childrens’ mental health is directly affected by the relationships and environments they grow up in, ultimately establishing the foundations for lifelong emotional wellbeing.
As well as this, Beyond Blue research indicates that roughly 50% of mental health conditions commence before the age of 14. A pretty alarming statistic for parents. Rather than add pressure to an already tough gig, however, it is a gentle reminder to be aware of your child’s emotional needs and learn their individual signals when they are trying to tell you something.
Being a perfect parent is simply impossible. Parenting is tough, but you may notice a world of a difference if you approach situations with love and emotional awareness. This approach can take time to adapt to, as you learn more about the constantly growing and unique personality in your little one.
Our top 2 tips to support your child’s mental health:
1. Be conscious of your own mental health
Ever wondered why the endless tantrums or food throwing occurrences happen to be on your WORST day when everything seems to be falling apart?
Well, it just so happens children are the greatest emotional mirrors to our own internal state and their behaviour often reflects this.
Try to focus on your own mental health and wellbeing. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try to implement a strategy. Perhaps invest in one day of daycare, so that you can take a “self-love day” to do whatever it is that fills up your cup.
If this isn’t possible, try to involve your kids in activities that you enjoy, like taking them with you on a morning walk, grabbing a coffee or breakfast at a cafe, or even doing some baking!
At the end of the day, being a parent will consume a lot of your physical and emotional energy. Ensuring you are still doing things that make you feel happy and fulfilled is so important.
2. Remember, everyone wants to be seen and to feel understood
When our children feel heard we teach them that they are important and that their voice matters and this gives them the courage to use it.
It can make a huge difference to shift our response to meet these needs, by helping our children know they do not need to do anything to feel worthy of our love and acceptance.
For example, if a situation is testing your patience, try to take a few deep breaths, and think about the notion of them wanting to be seen and heard. How can you support that in the current situation or conflict?
Whether it’s saying ‘yes I understand you’re frustrated, let’s work on a way to resolve it” or it’s waiting a couple of minutes for the situation to cool down and simultaneously letting them know you are there for a hug or chat when they are ready. These are little ways to practice understanding your child’s emotional needs.
At the end of the day, all parents are absolute superheroes and do things a little differently. But, we hope you can take away a couple of useful tips and insights.
Happy Hearts is a program designed to teach adults to form better connections and understanding of the hearts and minds of the children in their lives.
The outcomes being, the ability to empower your children with emotional resilience, a growth mindset and the ability to face challenges in life. If you would like to find out more or join please email firstname.lastname@example.org