7 Tips to Support Your Child’s Mental Health

The list of mental health issues that can affect your child is a long one and each person is unique in the way that these pressure affect them and how they cope or fail to contend with these traumatic circumstances and pressures.

Mental health is an important topic to me.

I can honestly say that I think my childhood mental health was supported, as much as possible, after I suffered a terrible tragedy. After my father passed away suddenly, my mom took me to a therapist so that I could talk about my feelings. It was different for my older sister, who acted out in anger and understood the tragedy more than I did. I think I had more of a sense of denial or just misunderstanding. I used to tell my mom that I was tired of my father’s “trip” and that I wanted him home NOW. I still do. I always will, but I’ve grown to understand the trauma better, and to feel thankful for what my mom and then dad (she later remarried) gave to my senses of self, love and belonging. It couldn’t have been an easy feat.

The list of mental health issues that can affect your child is a long one and each person is unique in the way that these pressure affect them and how they cope or fail to contend with these traumatic circumstances and pressures.

I think a lot about Scarlet and Des now. Cassidy’s parents were divorced and my father had passed by the time we were five, which Des is now. Just because we’re a close and relatively happy family unit, does not mean I don’t think about ways I can help support their mental health. There are so many ages and stages and phases and obstacles in life, and kids today have vastly different lives than we had back in the 80’s and 90’s. We didn’t have smartphones and social media and the political climate we have now. Granted, there have always been historical challenges, but there were certain parts of my childhood that were like living in a bubble. We played outside and didn’t know much about the outside world until we were older.

The list of mental health issues that can affect your child is a long one and each person is unique in the way that these pressure affect them and how they cope or fail to contend with these traumatic circumstances and pressures.

In this changing world, there are some things that stay the same. Love. Closeness. Communication. Support. Encouragement. That’s why I made this list of 7 tips to support your child’s mental health. I have to make sure to keep myself in check too:

1 – Give your kids a sense of belonging. It’s essential to their well-being to feel connected to you, and to feel like an important part of a family unit. This promotes trust in others and in themselves. Strong relationships count from the start.

2 – Teach resilience. Adversity is a natural part of life and learning. Life isn’t always easy, so when your children learn that challenges DO happen, and then learn how to overcome them, this promotes good mental health and connectedness.

3 – Give your children a safe school environment with positive learning. Feeling safe is crucial to well-being, as well as learning outside of the home. Teach your kids to respect their teachers and administration, to be responsible and to be KIND. They will learn a lot in school, but so much learning comes from you. Teach them to stand up for friends, look for and perpetuate fairness, and to work with others against bullying. Teach them to reach out to others who seem to need it, and to seek help and guidance from teachers when needed. These are some of the most important education building blocks!

4 – Encourage kindness and helping others. I think that children need to learn about acts of kindness, no matter how small or large, and to know they can make a difference in this world. It helps with connection, positivity, and good mental health.

5 – Teach your kids about physical health. Good physical health can help support good mental health. Teach your children about healthy eating habits, healthy exercise, healthy sleep habits, as well as healthy hygiene habits.

6 – Talk to your children about their emotions. Make sure you have ongoing conversations with them and learn how to be and stay in tune with them, as life happens, and new experiences and obstacles present themselves. YOU are first defense.

7 – Spot the warning signs and know when something is off! This is a few years down the line for us, but this article is a powerful read for me. Mental health issues are a clear and present danger to your child. Know the signs. Be ready. Be there.

The list of mental health issues that can affect your child is a long one and each person is unique in the way that these pressure affect them and how they cope or fail to contend with these traumatic circumstances and pressures.

What’s your favorite tip for supporting your children’s mental health?

Boomerang

I woke up today and just knew I needed to write, write, write.

I also knew it would just come about, however it was meant to come about because that’s what brains and hearts do. You put them on auto-pilot and send them out into the abyss and the weirdness, and see what they boomerang back to you with.

Mine came back and then went out again. It’s still spinning.

It told me to tell you this:


This morning when I was feeding the cat in all my bleary-eyed glory – and I CAN’T DO rainy mornings – I stumbled upon boxes and bags with pieces of my old life. I was looking in particular for these tiny photo albums that have all my prom pictures, and I so can’t tell my prom story without pictures. Really. I keep building up that story and not telling it, but it’s only because I can’t find my visual aids! I really love visual aids. So I was looking for my tiny photo albums that make up my teens and 20’s.

(Totally Ben Folds)

I found a bag of mix cds. Many of you don’t know the music situation around here, but my minivan can only play the radio and CDs. And I only have CDs with skips and scratches. I’m also quite sick of the arsenal of songs I have – no doubt all from my 30’s – and not always from great places. This bag has my mix cds from my mid-20’s. I’m talking “Hands Clean” by Alanis Morissette, “Windmills” by Toad the Wet Sprocket, and the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack. I just want to be alone with this:

Before that, though, I heard my power song. “Cloud On My Tongue” by Tori Amos. I played it 20 years ago – in the summer of 1996 – while I visited my grandparents in New Hampshire, turned Sweet 16, and then went on a 10-day trip to Canada.

I can’t believe I’ve only written about this time in my life three times on my blog, and once only vaguely. It needs a Friday refresher. It boomeranged back to me. You may have read this a few years ago, and you may have seen the Des pictures. I’m doing the full copy and paste and I’m not even cringing at what I wrote back then. I just know my boomerang brain wanted you to know it. And Beyonce. And egg and cheese sandwiches. Puppies. Kittens. San Francisco. CHOCOLATE. Wireless bras.

I think I’m done boomeranging? I wrote this over two years ago, but it happened 20 years ago:

Not a lot of people know much about this, and that’s mainly because I’m still learning how and when to slap words around it, but when I was 16, I got randomly depressed one day. Now I get situationally anxious, and of course situationally sad, but this was different. I don’t think it was really as random as I once thought it to be. I think it had to do with my sister going to college, my friends drifting away, and the fact that I was about to embark on my longest trip ever without my family.

There was a boy. Isn’t there always?

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I was in a relationship with someone, in title only, and I wasn’t ready for anything like it. I mean that on an honest and innocent level. I could not conceive of, or share that level of emotion. Not yet, anyway. It was too much. I didn’t have the tools for it. So I got sick – suddenly nauseous. Every time he came over. For days. At first I thought it was bad Burger King (which seems likely, right?) but it happened every time he came to pick me up for a date. As the days winded down from a trip to New Hampshire to see my grandparents, through these nauseous days, and towards my big Canadian trip, hurtling towards a new autumn with my sister in college and me having to work harder to get into my first choice college, I buckled.

I couldn’t contain the feelings. I never could, anyway.

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I got depressed. And lost. It was a new feeling for me.

It wasn’t feeling too much, which is usually the case. It was an absence of feelings. It was like being in a black and empty room with no senses. It was dark without light, and life without dreaming. It was the sickening feeling in my stomach that everything was dead wrong, or lost forever. It was a dizzying, shifting sensation. It wasn’t growing pains, but growing torture.

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There is not such a thing as no hope in my heart, but this was probably very close to it.

I would never dream of downplaying what happened, because it was excruciating, but it did not last long. It was debilitating and torturous. It was made up of more facts than feelings. The only food that sounded good to me was apples. The only companionship I craved was with dogs or even a stray cat I met in upstate New York. I could barely drink any water, but I still set forth on my long trip and I was able to climb the Watkins Glen Gorge in this strange, hungry, thirsty, exhausted state.

At night, on that first or second night, they had a laser light show on the walls of the gorge. It was all about the history of the world and dinosaurs and humans. The light from the walls of the gorge shone a bit into my soul, little by little, and for sure.

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I took that little light with me to Niagara Falls, where I was drenched on “Maid of the Mist”, charmed by happy face french fries at our hotel, and asked by smiling tourists from all over the world if I would take their photos in front of the falls.

Then we delved a little deeper into Canada. Toronto. I remember the first sight of the CN Tower, which back then was the tallest freestanding structure on land in the world. I know it was reflected in my wide eyes for miles as we got closer. I stayed up late those nights, writing postcards in a windowsill that overlooked the tower from our hostel. I won a free breakfast from the college kids who ran the hostel and I know they pulled my name on purpose. I was letting more light in, maybe more than ever before. Shaking off the darkness made me stand taller, reach higher and smile wider. It was a thing.

I was 16, but only just.

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Then we went deeper yet, into Canada and into my heart. Gananoque first. Land of 1,000 islands, three hour boat cruises, and stories of heart-shaped islands built and given out of love. There were small cafes and mystical stores along the seaway. When I was 16, I didn’t know anxiety like I do now. All of the life – good and bad – was still bubbling over the surface. Finally, it was breaking wide open and spilling out. While I’m in my 30’s, I don’t know depression like I did for those four or five days when I was 16. That’s right. That’s all it was. It wasn’t chemical or chronic or long-lasting. It WAS brutal and life-altering.

It was an extended gift, as well, for I don’t know now the darkness I knew briefly then.

That feeling of being split apart so the light can get in. It’s not just about what goes in. It’s about what needs to come out.

Then we found ourselves in Montreal. I searched in vain for something I had been looking for since Watkins Glen, NY – raspberry ice cream. I found it in Lake George, at the tail end of our trip. On a boardwalk with rainbow sprinkles. I was ready to go home. Little did I know, that it would take me about a decade to even start to talk about what had happened. It has no words. There was a song I listened to on my walkman during the roadtrip. It’s called “Cloud on my Tongue.” I couldn’t even listen to it for years without getting full body chills. I did it anyway. It was a good full body chills, if that makes sense.

When I got home, I was taller and skinnier than before. I could see brighter. I started getting high on life, all of the time. Many things could trigger it. It was about connection, love, spirituality and most of all – survival. It felt/feels like nothing I’ve ever imagined. Lightheaded, but amazing. I had felt it before, as a kid, simply from a good book, a spring day, or a cookie.

This was consistent, intense and deep. And still, this was way before romantic love, kids, photography and writing.

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When you walk away from that kind of battle in that kind of war, no matter how long or short, staggering or mild, you want to thank someone. You want to credit someone. For some, it’s God. Or Gods and Goddesses. For some, it’s other people. And I have never figured out where I stand on that, I admit, but what I really want to do in retrospect is to thank myself.

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I let the light in, so some of the darkness could finally escape out. I put one foot in front of another.

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I climbed a mountain to see what was waiting for me at the top. In the literal way, it was a water fountain.

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I was very thirsty. I nearly crawled to it, but I found the strength to walk.

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I found the courage and strength I needed within myself. It’s not always the way and it’s not often the way and maybe it’s not even the best way, but it’s how I approach my adulthood situational anxiety. This set the stage for how I would begin to deal with trauma within my life. Splitting apart to let the light in, no matter how much it hurts, or seems unbearable.

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It’s the only way to grow.

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Every day I’m still learning. Every day I’m still finding new ways to talk about August of 1996, even though it’s all been much higher, lower and more intense since then. It all had to start some time, didn’t it? And I’m so very grateful that it did.

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These days I’m learning to talk about it more, and write about it, and even shout about it, rather than fight my own battles only. That’s my next step on this journey. Reaching in. Then reaching out.

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