Mighty Blog

Mental Health Awareness Month: how we can help

Children’s Minnesota is honoring Mental Health Awareness Month in May. We know prioritizing children and teen’s mental health is vital to their overall wellbeing.

The last several years have brought unprecedented challenges and change. Because of this, your kids may be feeling more anxious, stressed, angry, mad or sad. They may need some extra support right now and we are here to help!

How can I help my child’s mental health as a parent?

African young mom listening teen daughter sitting on couch together

We talked with Ian Halberg, PhD, LP, NCSP, pediatric integrated behavioral health psychologist, and Sarah Quinn, LICSW, integrated behavioral health specialist, about ways parents can try and help their children at home.

Here are a few strategies:

Keep an open dialogue

At home, it’s important to make sure your kids know they can openly express how they’re doing and if they’re worried about something. If you feel your child’s behavior has changed, try approaching that with curiosity and talking with them about how they are feeling and what they are thinking.

You might say, “I notice that you seem more stressed out about your homework” or “I see you haven’t been playing with some of your favorite toys.” By approaching your child with curiosity, we invite a more open conversation. You might say, “Help me understand what the challenges are with your homework?” or “Can you tell me more about why you haven’t been wanting to play with those toys?” As your child opens up, validate their experience and offer support. You are your child’s safe place.

Staying active and engaged

It is really important to get children engaged in activities that they enjoy and keep them busy and active. As parents, discuss options with your children about what they would like to do. A few ideas are: go to a park, go to an event, play sports, be active outside riding bikes or going on walks.

Stay connected

It’s important that we find ways to connect with loved ones and people we care about. It’s important to be mindful of COVID-19 safety when seeing others, which may include wearing a mask, social distancing and gathering outside.

Staying connected to friends and family tends to help improve kids’ moods. We still have virtual ways to connect with those unable to meet in person or who may live far away.

Engage in healthy habits

Making sure your child is getting chances to eat nutritious food and getting enough sleep at night can help improve your child’s mood as well.

Ways to help your child cope

As we continue to learn ways to support kids, parents and guardians can play a big role in helping their child navigate difficult challenges. You can be there to listen and validate concerns, come up with a plan and help them do what they want to do.

Check in with your child and have them come up with ideas as to how they want to be supported. Remind them that as their parent you are here to support them and can help them to be brave, be calm and be safe. It’s also helpful to remember past moments of success and celebrate present successes to help plan for more in the future!

Some useful coping skills are:

  • Deep breathing. Deep breathing is a commonly-used practice to help people calm their nerves, worries and anxieties. Deep breathing should include slowing and controlling your breaths. Take notice of your breaths in and out.
  • Distraction techniques. Offer a change of scenery or activity (go outside or to a different room in the house, play with a different toy or engage in a new activity). The purpose of this is to help your child transition from distress to calm. This could be coloring, reading, stretching your body or getting a drink of water.
  • Grounding techniques. These are strategies to help your child return to the present moment by using your senses. For example, name three things you can see, three things you can hear and three things you can feel. You could have your child run their hand under warm or cool water.
  • Guided meditation. You can encourage finding and practicing guided meditation through apps on their phone or online. Some examples of apps include:
    • Mind Shift.
    • Head Space.
    • Smiling Mind.
    • Breathe, Think, Do Sesame.
    • Calm Harm.

If these strategies don’t seem to work or you’re concerned about changes in your child’s behavior, we encourage you to connect with your primary care physician or schedule an appointment with our behavioral health specialists.

Alexandra Rothstein