Teaching children to look after their mental health

The disruption to learning and educational environments caused by the coronavirus
pandemic has affected many school going children and adolescents alike. If we all
think back to our own individual struggles in the past year and a half, I am almost
certain that we can all appreciate the importance of teaching the youth about mental

Growth needs for children & youth

Mental health and the psychosocial wellbeing of children and adolescents are critical to
their phase of human development. We all have a need for love and affection,
having values, being able to hope, being confident and having a sense of self-worth.
Such needs are mostly dependent on relationships we have with others and social
activities we take part in. They are facilitated by families, educational institutions, and
communities where children live. However, the lockdown has put a stop to
some of the activities that facilitate development areas for the youth.

Combating mental health disorders

Research has shown that most mental health disorders begin in childhood, making it
essential that mental health needs are identified early and treated during this
sensitive time in child development (WHO, CDC). If untreated, childremental health
problems extend to adulthood and limit opportunities for leading fulfilling lives. Below
are various ways that parents, caregivers, and families can teach children and
adolescents about mental health and psychosocial wellness.

  1. Role models
    Demonstrate positive behaviours that children can learn from. Making good
    decisions about lifestyle choices such as nutritious food and exercise, having
    conversations that impart moral, ethical, spiritual, and cultural values teach
    good behaviours that children can learn from.
  2. Relationships
    Children grow and thrive in the context of dependable relationships that
    provide love, nurturance, and security. Expose children to trustworthy people
    and situations where they can learn cooperation and motivation to develop
    and build healthy relationships with others.
  3. Self-Care
    Engage in self-care activities with children to teach them to make time for
    themselves in order to manage future stressors in healthy and effective ways.
    Downtime, sleep and play are beneficial for everyone, whether it is reading a
    book or winding down for bed.
  4. Autonomy
    Provide opportunities for children to make independent choices and
    decisions. Where for instance these are contrary to family rules and
    behaviour expectation, provide an explanation. When children and
    adolescents understand the reasons for rules and the context behind them,
    they have an easier time supporting and following those rules.
  5. Coping skills
    Support children to learn skills such as problem-solving and thought
    challenging. Coping skills can be active (physical exercise), relaxing
    (breathing exercises), creative (drawing), social (spend time with a friend), or
    shifting mindset (focus on what you can control).

Read more psychology articles here.

Silindokuhle is an Industrial/Organisational Psychologist registered with the HPCSA. She holds a Master’s degree from UKZN and runs an independent practice specialising in psychological assessments, training and wellbeing.  

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