Raising mentally strong kids


THE conversations on mental health have been greatly associated with adults, but mental health problems can occur at any age, even among children. The fact is that childhood experiences can influence how the brain develops to build the foundations of strong mental health throughout one’s life.

An expert from Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed, www.makatimed.net.ph) says that it is in the hands of parents and guardians to raise kids 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,” says Anna Josefina Vazquez-Genuino, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist of the Section of Psychiatry of the country’s leading health institution.

She shares different approaches that parents and guardians can adapt to raise mentally healthy kids.

LEARNING FROM MISTAKES. Kids should learn that it’s alright to make mistakes, but they also need to learn not to make the same mistakes over and over again. Failing can be an educational experience, teaching kids how to become stronger and wiser in facing life challenges, says Vazquez-Genuino. She adds that sometimes what we think was a mistake might turn out to be an opportunity for success.     

“To help them learn from their mistakes, it also helps to talk about what happened and ask them about their thoughts and opinion on how they reacted and dealt with a situation. Try to ask how else they could have handled the situation. It would probably be better to avoid blaming the child, or even asking questions like ‘What do you think would be a better way of reacting or handling that situation’ as this insinuates that they are not good or better,” Vazquez-Genuino adds.  She also says that children should be encouraged to approach their parents for whatever doubts or questions they have in mind.

ACCEPTING CONSEQUENCES OF MISTAKES. If kids do make mistakes, let them be, the doctor also says. “Saving a child from even the slightest discomfort can make them dependent on you in solving every problem, and it won’t help them build mental muscle in the long run,” the doctor says.  The role and attitude of parents toward allowing kids to make mistakes evolves depending on the age of the child for their own safety. While parents should keep an eye on young children at all times, Vazquez-Genuino says that they may gradually give some freedom to preschoolers three to six years old, like allowing them to decide on 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 if any.

WE ARE NOT THE MISTAKES WE MAKE. It’s also important not to blame, find fault, get mad, or rub in a child’s mistakes as that may make them lose confidence in themselves and be afraid to open up, aside from possibly becoming sad and seeing themselves as a failure. “We can help them to just take these mistakes in stride, console and encourage them to get up, try again and not to lose hope or give up. Charge it to experience and become the stronger and more mature person they have become as a result of these mistakes. After all, we should not let our mistakes define who we are,” says Vazquez-Genuino.

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 seeking help from others. “Of course, you’d want your children to be happy, so it’s just natural to try to cheer them up when they’re upset or mad. But kids should be able to learn to regulate their emotions and not depend on something or someone else to make them feel better,” Vazquez-Genuino points out.

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 be accepting of how they are reacting. “Try not to judge or impose what you want or insist you are right. Understand their perspective and their feelings. You could just reflect back what their feelings are and if at a loss for words, be honest,” the doctor adds. 

It may not be as emphasized, but the mental health of a child is as important as his or her physical well-being. By providing children with the necessary tools—including professional help if necessary—to cope with their emotions and problems, parents and guardians are already giving them a good head start in life.

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