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How to Support Our Children's Mental Health

Updated: May 31, 2023

The phrase "Be careful what you wish for" seems to be looming over us currently. We desired for our children to resume their schooling routine after the holiday chaos, but now that it's happening, it's not as easy as we expected for both them and us.

We have received a great deal of information regarding the preparations for kindergarten and the resumption of school. Still, we have yet to be provided with guidance on how we can support our children in navigating the emotional and cognitive challenges that come with returning to the classroom and playground. This is especially important as our children must now adapt to a new environment with greater demands, whether transitioning from kindergarten to school, moving between grades, or changing schools altogether.

Despite their eagerness to see their friends again, even social interactions feel unfamiliar and awkward for our children. Friendships and social dynamics come with new obstacles as our children work to reestablish their place in the group.

Meanwhile, children try to engage in learning while their senses are overloaded. I have had clients report that they are feeling dizzy and having headaches, nausea and blurry eyes at school. Parents rush them to GPs and optometrists only to be told there is no physiological cause. What is it? An amalgamation of stress, anxiety and fatigue!

I explain to my young clients that our brain is a muscle that has been doing completely different exercises over the duration of the holidays or even just the last few weeks. It takes time for our brains to get fit again and manage these new experiences.

So, if in your house you are seeing meltdowns, fights, non-compliance, tears and challenging bedtimes, know that this is very common as our children and we, seek to navigate the new normal.

How to nurture your child's mental health

Be mindful of your feelings

Parents set the emotional climate for home. So that means again we are going to have to present that kinder and school are okay. Not let our doubts, fears and angst become contagious. Be careful of conversations and comments that suggest you’re not really sure about the situation.

Schedule family time

Our children are so comfortable with spending time at home with us. They have been there all through the lockdown and probably through all those interrupted holiday plans. Aim to schedule weekly, low-key family time. It might be UNO Thursday night, it might be Friday arvo pancakes or have your children organise a performance for you to watch. Creative and physical activities are known to reduce the impact of anxiety and low mood.

Talk about feelings

Acknowledge your child's feelings or provide them with the chance to say what is tricky at the moment. Try to link their behaviour to how they might be feeling. Say “It seems like your brother is really annoying you, I’m wondering if you have some big feelings at the moment”. Suggest that sometimes we feel sad or grumpy about one thing but it's really because something else is bothering us.

Try to see beyond the behaviour

It can be challenging to reflect on the issue instead of the behaviour your child is exhibiting. When children aren’t coping it can feel like they are regressing or that we aren’t doing a good enough job as parents. NOT TRUE! Externalising behaviour like tears, rudeness and non-compliance occurs when the world is not making sense for them.

Consider fatigue levels

Our bodies and brains were operating in a completely different mode last year. Whether it was good or bad…it was different. Children and parents alike are having to adjust to new routines, schedules, demands and activities. There is an assault on all our senses that previously we did not have to respond to. This makes you tired. Sleep is free, and the best drug with the greatest efficacy and with not one side effect.

Lower your standards

Self-care is vital for every mum and dad. You cannot fill someone else’s tank if yours is empty. So, resist the temptation to have your house tidy every moment of the day, the world will not come crashing down if beds aren’t made. Your child will survive if they go to school with a stained school shirt or messy hair. Yes, a healthy lunch is great, but guess what…it shouldn’t come at a cost to your sanity. Take shortcuts, buy pre-prepared meals, and lower expectations.

Finally, give it time. Adjustments and adaption will take a while, for us and them.

This article was written by Deirdre Brandner Child Psychologist Expert.

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