Over 10 percent of children in the U. S. have at least one diagnosed mental health disorder such as serious depression, ADHD, or uncontrollable anxiety; and, whether due to actual increase in disorders or increased ability (and willingness) to recognize them, the percentage continues to climb. An additional 2.28 percent of children have diagnosed autism spectrum disorders (although there’s a growing movement to recognize autism as simply a different form of natural brain wiring).
It’s frightening to consider that your own child might ever experience depression, panic attacks, or delusions. If you notice actual mental-illness symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. But in any case, there is much you can do to help your children grow up in a mentally healthy environment.
Don’t Worry About It
Living in fear that your children will develop severe mental illness creates a high-stress atmosphere in your household, which may well “drive everyone crazy” and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Make a habit of looking for positives and (as necessary) solutions, not for problems.
Give Them Room to Grow Up
If you insist on doing everything for your kids and making their decisions for them, you’ll reap either angry resistance or complacent entitlement—neither of which is conducive to sound thinking and coping skills. Children need to explore, experiment, learn a few things the hard way—and decide for themselves what hobbies to pursue and what to major in.
Value Effort Above Results
A hard-earned C can be more valuable than an easy A. If you show disappointment at every score below 100 percent, your children will learn to fear challenge and always opt for the easy route—and their lives, not to mention the world they contribute to, will be poorer for it.
Make family time a priority. Get home from work in time to eat with your kids. And always be ready to listen—empathetically and nonjudgmentally—when they want to talk about their dreams or anything that’s bothering them.
Make Physical Health a Priority
The health of the body has strong influence on the health of the mind. Emphasize the value (for yourself as well as your kids) of regular exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep.
Make Life Fun
Sound health practices shouldn’t have to include those annoying (and stressful) “Eat it, it’s good for you” arguments. Recipes can be healthy and delicious; exercise can come in the form of active games; and laughter is among the best daily vitamins anyone can take.
Exercise the Brain, Too
Keep your home well stocked with books, puzzles, and board games. As leisure activities, they leave television in the dust for keeping everyone’s mind fit!
Note to Teachers
There’s more to effective teaching than having your classes score high on standardized tests. Besides deciding what your students should learn, consider how everyone can learn most effectively. Encourage participation, offer a variety of interesting challenges, be a good listener, and emphasize appreciation for everyone’s unique abilities. Not only your students’ attitudes, but their academic performance, will benefit.
A MENTALLY HEALTHY LEARNING ATMOSPHERE
School is stressful for too many kids. Worse, many kids learn to regard themselves as “stupid” because they don’t take naturally to sitting still, memorizing, and other skills expected in a “traditional” academic atmosphere. Children need to learn early on that there are many ways to be smart and successful.
Our private-school program at Shady Oak Primary makes a point of helping students discover and maximize their unique individual gifts. Active contribution, creativity, and self-respect plus respect for others are the foundation on which our academic model is built. Contact us today to learn more!
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!