Do As I Do (Parenting)-The Personal Side
A study by the American Journal of Psychiatry followed children of depressed parents over a 20 year period and found children were three times more at risk for mental health and substance abuse disorders than children whose parents were not depressed (integrisok.com). Please do not be overly concerned reading this if you have depression. Having depression or any other mental health challenge is less impactful than how you as a parent manage these issues.
As stated in the practical blog on this topic, during the 18+ years that your child is under your roof you have the privilege and responsibility of modeling mental health to your child. Practically speaking, modeling the importance of mental health in your home may look like:
1. Providing healthy meals and snack options and talking about the importance of nutrition and how it affects mental health.
2. Creating opportunities for you and your family to live an active lifestyle. Enrolling your child in a sport or spending weekends in green spaces together as a family are two simple ways to do this. It is also important to be talking to your children about how exercise/movement positively affects mood and sleep patterns.
3. Talking about mental health. Name your feelings and help children name their own. As they grow, their emotional vocabulary should expand. For example, when they are young, they may talk mostly about being sad, happy, mad or scared. As they grow, you can help them articulate more complex emotions, for example, the difference between nervous and terrified.
4. Normalizing therapy. Teach your children what counseling is and offer to set up a session for them should they ever want to speak with a counselor. Encourage them (especially in their younger years before they are older teens) to talk to you about their feelings. In addition, let them know they can always talk to someone else (like a therapist), too. Sometimes teens would rather talk to someone who is not their parent.
5. Sharing (appropriately) about your own mental health. Children should not know about our deepest struggles as adults; however, you can share issues that are age-appropriate. For example, say you are all late to school and feeling stressed. You can say in the car, “I am feeling anxious because we are late. I am going to take a few deep breaths and then play an upbeat song to try and calm down.” Try to sneak in tidbits like this whenever possible so your children see you navigating more difficult emotions. If all of this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. You can do this. The first step is making sure you are taking care of your own mental health. Once you are healthy, you can focus on ensuring your children are too.
If you need support in parenting, or just with your own mental health, we are here to help. Our trained and licensed mental health counselors can help you learn the skills and tools you need to care for yourself and your children. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment.