Mind & Spirit

4 ways parents can support their children's mental health

By: Tralee Pearce

Getty Images Author: Canadian Living Credits: Getty Images

Mind & Spirit

4 ways parents can support their children's mental health

By: Tralee Pearce
As we eye the new school year, it’s easy for parents to focus on academics—after all that’s what school has always been about. Is the teacher right for my kid? Does she need a French tutor? Is she getting too much homework or not enough?

But as a new survey of Canadian parents and children ages eight to 12 suggests, we’re starting to see that mental health can be as important as good grades.

The survey, conducted in early 2015 by the non-profit group Companies Committed to Kids looked at four measures of kids’ health: mental, social, emotional and physical.

Some of the report’s top findings:

- 45 percent of parents rank "having the emotional skills to cope with life’s ups and downs" as the top factor important to their child’s mental well-being.

- Seven percent of parents ranked social well-being as their top concern.

- Parent ratings for girls are significantly higher than boys in many wellness areas, including handling life’s ups and downs (20 percent vs. 15 percent), knowing how to manage stress (17 percent vs. 10 percent) and demonstrating perseverance (35 percent vs. 27 percent).

- Parents say they need more support in the areas of: mental wellness (51 percent), emotional wellness (40 percent), social wellness (40 percent), and physical health (36 percent).

York University psychology professor Dr. Debra Pepler, the scientific co-director of the bullying prevention research group PREVnet, says she was pleased to see mental health ranked so highly by parents, as it shows awareness campaigns are helping. But that so few parents—only seven percent—rated social well-being on top "stands in stark contrast to the high levels of parents’ concerns for bullying," she adds, noting the issue is a peer relationship problem." 

Indeed, in a separate question, 98 percent of parents said bullying was a highly important issue.

What can parents do?

We asked Dr. Peplar how parents can better prepare their kids for the mental, emotional and social challenges of the school year. The big takeaway? It all starts at home:

1. Focus on resilience, regulating emotion and controlling overwhelming emotions. When a child inevitably meets with a bump in the road, help her view the situation as a learning opportunity, "honour the child’s mistake", put the challenge into perspective (say: "It’s not the end of the world"), and help the child think about how to cope with the situation differently next time, says Peplar.

2. Find time to talk and have fun together. All those studies about mental health being linked to the frequency of having dinner together? They’re about having “time together to talk about nothing at all… or occasionally about something really important, something that is really bothering them,” says Peplar. (How about a family date night?)

3. It is essential to stay positive and avoid being judgmental or harsh, says Dr. Peplar. Keep the lines of communication open because "it is in these moments that children will learn important values, perspectives and problem solving strategies."

4. Remember that as parents and other adults working with kids, we are "on stage" in children’s lives, says Dr. Peplar. They watch our every move and learn about how to relate to others and how to manage stress mostly from our examples, rather than from our words. As hard as it can be, try to model "mindfulness, kindness, empathy, healthy coping, healthy active living and overcoming adversity."

Good mantras all for parents as we head into a busy and often challenging season.

Read on for more on the signs of bullying, kids’ mental health and issues specific to teenage years.

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Mind & Spirit

4 ways parents can support their children's mental health