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A child’s mental well-being matters

by Ms. Deepika Gandhi (Coordinator- Mental Health Initiative, Miracle Foundation India)
Jan 30, 2021
A child’s mental well-being matters, Article, KonexioNetwork.com

When your child has a toothache, you visit a dentist. What about persistent joint pain? An orthopedic fixes that. Do you also visit a psychiatrist when your child is facing anger issues, anxiety, or fear? Seeking out professional help when it comes to the well-being of your child’s mental health is as simple as visiting a dentist or an orthopedic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that mental illness makes about 15% of the total medical conditions around the world. It also suggests that India has one of the largest populations affected by mental illness. The primary reason is the lack of awareness and sensitivity to the issue. Unfortunately, we observe a negative attitude towards those who need help with mental health in India. The general belief is you must be weak if you need counseling. You should learn to take care of your problems. This leads to shame and embarrassment in a child, who often suppresses to share his or her emotions.

Truth is, there’s nothing more stigmatizing than a child suffering from anger issues, anxiety, fear, and depression, etc. If these are interfering and impeding regular day-to-day activities of a child in school and interactions with friends and others, there might be something serious brewing. The situation, therefore, calls for attention from parents, teachers, and caregivers. 

Do we know what good mental health is?

Before we delve deeper to understand the issue, let’s look at if we are aware of what does good mental health mean? Since 1992, each year we have been observing ‘World Mental Health Day’ on October 10. Started to advocate and educate the masses about how relevant psychological well-being is, the concern still persists. How many of us truly know our state of mind? Are parents really observant of the mental and emotional needs of their children? Do we understand the importance of sound mental well-being? These questions are often left unanswered. Hence, the concern.

Science tells us that the foundations for sound mental health are developed early in life. Therefore, early childhood experiences can either strengthen or disrupt a child’s mindset. Thus, good mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence to adulthood. It includes the ability to manage thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and interactions with others.

What’s in mind?

When people look at children, they can hardly think that they may be suffering from a mental health problem. Sometimes, we are simply in denial. But let’s say a child is repetitively performing poorly in school or is unable to concentrate on the given task. He or she is becoming belligerent and throwing tantrums, or maybe becoming despondent and aloof. Mind it, these are indications that warrant further investigation. 

Parents are lucky if a child shares about his/her feelings -- be it good or bad. As a parent, you spend a vast amount of energy, time, and money on a child’s upbringing. Invest the same in their mental healthcare. A complete and meaningful life comes with a range of emotions and experiences – happiness, excitement, strength but also fear, disappointment, and pain. Teach your child how to embrace all these feelings. Children need to be heard and given attention. Hence, nurture a relationship that offers comfort for them to communicate and share.

Positive or Negative mindset

Mental health is an important aspect of how we perform our responsibilities as we grow. Sound mental health in children is reflected through their willingness to learn, curiosity to ask, their ability to experience love and affection, get upset when things are upsetting, and coming back to levelness without needing intervention.

Let’s not be oblivious of the fact that one of the common factors that influence children and their mindsets is how they view failure. For instance, many times children coming to reside in institutions such as an orphanage have been through difficult situations. They are, therefore, at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues. Thus, be encouraging as caregivers or parents and tell your children to embrace the ups and downs as they come on their way. This could make a big difference, helping them to develop a holistic perspective about life.

Teach them how to involve in activities even when unwanted feelings and thoughts creep in from time to time. As a parent, teacher, or caregiver, train children to do SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. If children can execute this at a young age, they can assess situations in a better way.

How parents can learn and help?

Mental health issues can be thought of like a wobbly table. Be it a child or a table, there may be several reasons for instability. Identifying what is causing it is the first step towards solving the problem.

The symptoms of depression in a child are often unaddressed because they are seen as normal emotional changes that occur as a child grows. It is true that if a child looks sad it doesn’t always mean he or she has depression. But it is equally important to know that childhood depression is different from everyday emotions. If this sadness is persistent and hampers with a child’s academics and extra-curricular performances, it is an indication that parents should not neglect.

We certainly know that infants and very young children emulate their parents and exhibit behaviours. Therefore, parents have a direct influence on their child’s mentality and a parent’s emotional investment does create an impact on a child. You must avoid yelling and arguing as it affects a child’s mindset. 

Maintain a warm tone in your voice while speaking to your child; mark your words when you are engaged in a conversation in front of your kid. Further, encourage them to take up activities that will have a positive impact on their minds. This will also help de-stress your child. Try to be a role model that inculcates positive behaviour and unlocks a child’s learning potential.