Our mental health as an adult can be shaped by our experiences as a child. The way we learn to suppress or express our emotions, how we learn to cope with situations and our beliefs of what is mentally strong and mentally weak are usually learnt as children.
So how can we help young children be mentally healthy?
Love- it sounds simple but sometimes we forget to speak with love to our children. "I love you" "I'm proud of you" "you're my best friend" "good job" are all things we'd love to hear as an adult and so do children. If a child hears "you're being naughty" "I'm busy" "not now" or criticisms more than they do loving words it gives them low self-esteem, negative relationships and often results in bad behaviour to gain attention.
Talk about their emotions- ask your child why they had that tantrum, what made them cry, what makes them happy and what they can do when they feel sad, angry, lonely, poorly, worried... You are helping your child both recognise and evaluate their emotions as well as showing them it's OK to talk about our feelings and to confide in someone. Be careful not to mock emotions- "you're crying like a big baby" "somebodies being moody". A young child will need help calming down, soothing themselves and expressing their emotions. They need to know it is OK to show emotions and not be afraid or embarrassed to do so.
Gender stereotypes- "stop being a big girl" "man up" "little girls don't scream like that" linking emotions to gender can be very damaging for children. Young men can especially struggle if they have been brought up to believe that boys should be tough and not cry or show emotions. Again this leads to not talking about or showing emotions as an adult. As well as not reaching out for help when needed.
Value their voice- Young children can get frustrated when they are not understood or can't explain themselves. Helping them put what they want to say into words shows that you care about their opinions and that they deserve attention. Involving them in making decisions also helps them to speak up for themselves, feel in control of situations and learn how to compromise. Valuable lessons for when they are an adult.
Recognising emotions- when you are reading a picture book, watching cartoons or just out in the world there are chances to help your child recognise emotions in others. "Why is that baby crying?" "does the mummy bear look happy or cross?" "what can we do to make daddy happy?" By doing this you are helping your child to think of others, be sympathetic and be considerate and supportive. As an adult they need to read emotions, judge how to handle situations and know how to help.