By Abha Ranjan Khanna
Statistics from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that one in six children in the age group of two to eight years display a mental, behavioural or developmental disorder.
Mental disorders among children are described as “serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, causing distress and problems getting through the day.” Among the more common mental disorders that can be diagnosed in childhood are attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and behaviour disorders.
Diagnoses of depression and anxiety are more common with increased age. Behaviour problems are more common among children aged six to 11 years than children younger or older.
Given these statistics, the focus of any new parent should include prevention of mental health issues by establishing loving and nurturing environments in which to bring up their children.
Amazingly, it is very easy and simple to nurture children’s mental health. Following are many ways that build self-esteem, happy spirits and strong emotional resilience that lay the foundation for later maximisation of children’s potential and happy healthy mental states.
Hug, praise your child
Just reach out and hug your child as often as you can and make sure you take time to listen to what they have to say before giving advice. Keep an eye out for any changes in behaviour and educate yourself on mental health issues. “Catch” your child being good at least three to five times a day and tell her/him how that makes you feel so proud. Praise your child much more often than reprimanding/correcting – and if you do have to reprimand – do it with care making sure you don’t bruise your child’s self- esteem by shaming her/him.
Believe your child
Tell the truth, be consistent and always follow through with what you promise. Be aware if your behaviour and what you say is threatening and causing fear in your child. Be patient, validate your feelings and validate theirs. Avoid saying “stop crying like a girl.” Believe your child and believe what he/she says. Avoid saying “you’re lying!”
Make time for fun and play with your child every day and let her/him learn from mistakes with support. Play outside in a playground every day, climb and play on every swing and use the monkey bars! Sit beside your child and eat at least one meal together. Avoid feeding/force feeding your child. Give your child a role or some chore every day as a way of being a responsible contributor – laying the table, helping pick the laundry or just getting you a glass of water.
Stick to “zero screen time” till your child is three years old. If you do use screen time do so with supervision and for the least amount of time. Tell stories and sing songs often. Make sure to model respectful and kind ways of interactions. Create happy morning and night-time rituals; start every morning with a hug and “I love you very much” and end the day at bedtime with a hug and “I love you very much”. Love unconditionally and watch your child bloom!
(The writer is an occupational therapist.)