- While there are concerns about the negative impact of physical isolation is having on children’s learning, we should also be concerned about their mental health. Teachers and health professionals report that the strain of physical isolation is starting to show for many children and young people. Any anxiety and fear they experience is heightened by isolation from friends, lack of access to their usual sports and leisure activities and a lack of certainty about the future.
In these challenging times kids’ mental health needs to be a high priority. The following plan laid out by the experts at Parenting Ideas will show you how to lay a solid foundation for good mental health, and outline key behaviours that will help build the resilience and psychological strength that kids need in these difficult times.
Build the foundations for good health
A healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and good sleep patterns are basic to good physical and mental health. Get the foundations right and you establish optimum conditions for your child to flourish even in difficult circumstances.
Eat a healthy diet
The ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ mantra that we grew up with needs to be updated to ‘healthy gut, healthy brain’. Recent research has revealed the links between a child’s gut health and good mental health. Kids who experience anxiety and depression typically have imbalances of adrenaline (which keeps the brain alert) and GABA (which calms the brain down), which can be rectified with good gut health.
A framework for healthy eating includes eating real rather than processed foods, consuming small and regular meals, starting each day with protein and complex carbs, drinking plenty of water, and keeping kids away from caffeinated drinks.
Get plenty of exercises
Exercise not only promotes good mental health. It’s also a tool that kids can use to manage their mental states. Exercise and movement send endorphins through their bodies improving mood and relieving tension and stress. Exercise and movement relaxes the muscles and reduces feelings of anxiety that build up over time.
A framework for exercise includes starting the day with some movement, taking regular movement and game breaks, finishing the school day with movement that gets their limbs moving and hearts pumping.
Maintain good sleep patterns
The benefits of good sleep patterns are immense and far-reaching, impacting kids’ learning, memory, and emotional stability. Sleep restores the brain to optimum conditions and rejuvenates the body, allowing hormone levels elevated during the day to return to normal. Consequently, sleep-deprived kids experience greater anxiety doing routine tasks and have a propensity for pessimistic thinking, which is associated with anxiety and depression.
A framework for good sleep patterns includes finding an optimum bedtime; creating a regular, relaxing routine, eating and exercising at the right time, creating a sleep sanctuary, and getting up at regular times each day.
Add the pillars of good mental health
Mental health is complex and is impacted by many factors including a child’s social and emotional wellbeing. The following four pillars have an insulating effect on your child’s mental health, acting as circuit-breakers when life becomes difficult and complex.
Maintain social connection
As social beings we long for connection to others and a sense of belonging to groups. While time alone can be restorative, sharing experiences, thoughts and stories with others is absolutely essential to your child’s happiness and wellbeing.
A framework for social connection includes one-on-one time with family members and other loved ones, having shared family experiences to confirm a sense of belonging, having shared time and experiences with peers from school and the neighbourhood, and a connection with the broader community through shared experience, cause or goal.
Stay in the present
The human mind is restless, taking us all over the place. It can make us feel happy recalling memories of loved ones or happy times and it can also drive insecurity connecting us to events in the past or future that fill us with dread and make us feel anxious. Kids’ wandering minds need to take a rest and settle in the present, stopping their mental chatter, giving them the chance to relax. Mindfulness is an essential mental health tool that enables children to keep their minds in the present moment, allowing them to feel safe and secure.
A mindfulness framework includes regular mindfulness exercises, doing one thing at a time, using mindfulness during an anxious moment, practicing self-kindness and forgiveness.
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