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Strengthen Your Kids' Emotional Resilience

Strengthen Your Kids' Emotional Resilience

The lazy days of summer have been steamrolled by jam-packed schoolyear schedules overflowing with homework and extracurriculars, not to mention the societal challenges that today's kids and teens face — from cyber-bullying to community violence and drug exposure — to cite just a few sobering examples.

Given the stresses that surround them, coupled with genetic factors that impact mental health, it's not surprising that one in five youth aged 13 to 18 experiences a severe mental disorder, and half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14. Most disturbing is the fact that suicide is the third-leading cause of death for those aged 10 to14, and the second-leading cause of death in the 15-to-24-year-old category.

While parents can't cover their children with an impenetrable protective shield, they can lead by example and help them develop coping skills that will strengthen their emotional resilience and set them on a path toward mental wellness in adulthood.

With that goal in mind, and in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week — Oct. 1 through Oct. 7 — ATRIO Health Plans is sharing some tips to help parents help their offspring.

Make your home a stress-free zone. As much as possible, your home should be the least stressful space in your children's lives. For instance, if you and your partner are having a disagreement, find a place to hash it out that's away from your kids. If you find yourself nagging your children or barking orders, take a step back and think about what you're saying, and how you're saying it. Be sure you're praising more than criticizing, and continually let your kids know how very much they are loved.

Have an open-door policy. It's important to let your offspring know that they can talk to you about whatever is bothering them. In order for this open-door policy to work, parents must truly listen to their kids' concerns, and not be judgmental or belittle them in any way.

Channel calmness. If a child is out of control and hysterical, parents must behave in precisely the opposite way by exuding a sense of calm and control. Such a situation is not the time for a shouting match. Instead, speak in a soft, soothing voice. Short phrases are best, such as: "Take a deep breath;" "It's going to be OK;" and, "Come sit down. We'll figure this out."

Knowing what's typical versus troubling. Kids and teens all experience anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, and every other emotion spanning the spectrum of human feelings. This is part of typical development and learning to navigate the world of emotions. It's important, however, for parents to distinguish between typical behavior and behavior that warrants professional help. Signs that a child or teen may need to see a mental-health professional include:

  • Noticeable mood change lasting at least two weeks.
  • Extreme worry or fear that isn't rooted in reality.
  • Behavior that's out of character, dangerous, or out of control.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Physical symptoms, such as a headache or upset stomach.
  • Engaging in self-injury.
  • Use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Suicidal thoughts.

Mental health issues are medical issues that can be overcome or managed. Shame is not part of the equation; shame would only be relevant if help is not sought.

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577?pg=2

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/helping-home-tips-parents

https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Illness-Awareness-Week

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers