Teaching parents to support the mental health of their children
In my opinion...
Parents can lay the foundation for children's emotional development by helping them to recognise and talk about emotions and feelings and to deal with them in a positive way.
Children react to situations with a variety of feelings and in a multitude of ways. They feel emotions but can find it difficult to express them or express them through behaviour. What parent hasn't experienced or witnessed a toddler tantrum!!
We can help our children by acknowledging their feelings, empathising with them, encouraging them to process feelings and helping them to move on from them. It is helpful to teach children that they cannot choose their feelings but that they can choose what to do with them. Shaming a child or disapproving of their feelings won't stop them having them but may well cause them to repress them.
St Patrick's Mental Health Services have collaborated with the National Parents Council (NPC) on an innovative positive mental health initiative designed for parents of primary school children.
The NPC panel of trainers were up-skilled in March of this year and the programme has been piloted in 27 schools around the country - and has been universally positively received. It will be delivered during this school year as part of the NPC Training and Development programme.
The aim of the programme is to help parents and carers to support their children's mental health and wellbeing. Mental health is a crucial part of our overall health. It refers to a state of wellbeing in which each person can realise their full potential, cope with everyday stresses and lead a productive life.
This is what parents want for their children and they also hope that while they are growing up and dealing with new experiences in life, that they feel happy and contented, can enjoy life, make and sustain relationships and have the resilience to cope with difficult issues as they arise which they inevitably will.
The programme explores how meeting a range of children's needs can foster positive mental health and wellbeing. These include physical, social, intellectual and emotional needs. These are met in the formative years first in the home and then in the classroom. From the outset, children need their basic physical needs met - food, warmth, sleep and shelter. In addition they need safety and security. Physical security can be provided in ensuring that the child is physically safe and their care needs met but equally important is the security provided by responding to children's anxieties and fears by providing your presence and as the child develops providing explanations and reassurance as they experience new things.
Building in structure and routine also helps children to feel secure. Parents sometimes worry about rule setting (particularly if they felt their own parents were very strict!) but while rules may be resisted, without them life can be very chaotic for a child. The most important thing is to ensure the rules are explained, understood and are fair and consistent.
From an emotional perspective, children need to be loved and being loved helps them to grow up feeling confident, positive and more able to love and care for others.
Parents are the most important role models for their children and if they engage in and value activities that promote positive mental health and wellbeing, this will have a positive effect on their children's mental health.
Angela Walsh is a clinical nurse manager at St Patrick's Mental Health services.
For more information on the training programme, contact www.npc.ie
For mental health queries contact the St Patrick's Support & Information line on 01 2493 333