Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day Is May 9th – How’s Your Child’s Mental Health?

April 23, 2016

Reduce saturated fat, eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, and don’t skip daily exercise. Every mom and dad know that’s the receipt for good physical health.

But without thinking can you rattle off the three best things to do for your child’s mental health? And if you can, do you have an easy way to make these things happen every day. If you can’t answer either one of these questions off the top of your head, don’t feel bad, you’re no different than over 2500 moms and dads whom I’ve counseled.

All of us do know one thing for sure; we want our children to be happy, well-adjusted children. That’s good mental health. Add mental health to physical health and you’ve got one healthy child.

Over my 40 year counseling career, three really important mental health qualities have emerged: best efforts, comfortable in my own skin, and empathy.

Best Efforts: Whether it’s getting a good grade or beating your back stroke time: achievement makes everyone happy. Here are two ways to make best efforts a habit. First, when a task is to be done, outline the quality specs (according to your child’s ability) and insist on them being done right. Second, always make sure there is a big enough reward to motive your child’s best efforts, especially when new habits are being formed. Habits don’t happen without adequate rewards. Rewards range from the satisfaction of achievement to earning a video game rental when you are trying to establish a new habit like no more missing homework.

Comfortable in my own skin: “I’m Okay. There are things I’m improving and there some things about me that I’m really excited about.” Now that’s good mental health. Actually, it’s really basic; it’s loving yourself: fully accepting problems to work on and being excited about the positives in one’s life. And here are two parenting skills to help your child feel Okay: (1) be accepting of your child during a problem and (2) be excited about your child’s passion(s) and accomplishments. Feeling accepted during a problem is the toughest skill. Here’s the key: show understanding – skip the lecture – then impose a consequence. Without interrupting hear your teen-agers reasons for being late two times in a row and then say, “I can see how hard it is to get home on time, but I’m imposing the week-end grounding we talked about.”

Empathy: The highest level of happiness is loving others, being empathic. It’s practicing the Golden Rule: Love others – parents, peers, adults, bullies – as you love yourself. Teaching the Golden Rule to your child will get these results: enduring relationships (the most profound success there is), respectful of others, and minimal life-stress resulting in better physical health. Here are two things to make it happen. First make sure your child’s comfortable in his or her own skin; that’s the loving one’s self part of the Golden Rule. Second, emphasis empathy daily: be understanding during problems, do regular charity things as a family, and encourage solid, daily friendships.

Take home mental health lesson: Establish good mental health through establishing the habit of best efforts, becoming comfortable in my own skin, and making empathy a daily routine.

Gary M Unruh MSW LCSW has counseled more than 2500 children and their families for over forty years. Read about his award winning 2010 Unleashing Parental LoveTM approach in his book, Unleashing the Power of Parental Love: 4 Steps to Raising Respectful and Self-Confident Kids.

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