Mental health tips for children
In 2018, the Institute of Mental Health Singapore conducted a study that found 1-in-7 Singaporeans experience some form of mental health conditions.
Alarmingly, the group most at risk is the youths. According to the study, the number of younger Singaporeans suffering from mental health disorders is rising, with a 190 per cent increase in young Singaporeans who sought help from IMH’s Community Health Assessment Team. Unfortunately, the number of children between 5 and 9 who call the IMH hotline seeking help has increased by more than 5 times in less than 3 years. Heartbreakingly, suicide remains the leading cause of death for those aged 10-29.
So, how do we help our children overcome their mental stresses and assure them that they will always have a space to speak about anything that has been weighing them down mentally?
1. Change how mental illnesses are understood
Firstly, we need to educate ourselves. Learning about mental health and dismissing the stigmas of old will play a crucial role in how we help our young ones. We should avoid propagating misconceptions about how mental illness is "contagious" or even that it's a sign of weakness.
By providing greater understanding and support, the next generation will be braver in reaching out for help without seeing mental issues as being something to be ashamed of.
2. Observing behavioural pattern changes
Parents need to observe how their children behave. If you see any signs of behavioural changes or attitude shifts, you will need to address them immediately. For children, putting their feelings into words is a difficult thing to do. They will often express their feelings through their actions.
Should you notice any signs of odd behaviour, the first thing you would need to do is try to figure out why your child is acting out the way they are. Sometimes a casual discussion can help identify if there is a problem, but other times, it may require more probing, and for you to take a more understanding and supportive role.
3. Checking in, listening, and talking
Check in on your child periodically throughout the week. Young minds are like sponges that soak up whatever is going on around them – very quickly. Stress from school, anxiety about exams, and even paranoia about the pandemic can impact them negatively. They may not have a proper outlet to release these feelings and are bound to pent up all their feelings, which is where you come in.
You can help immensely by being a safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings. Listening to what they have to say without judgement and talking to them the way that helps them understand their feelings will help them manoeuvre their feelings. You will need to be a source of information they trust, so they don't rely on the internet for their news. Communication should be kept open and honest so your child will know that they can count on you.
4. Allowing time to unplug and recharge.
Being cooped up indoors is a major factor that affects children’s mental health. Children are just not meant to stay at home for long periods, so COVID-19 and how it affects children’s mental health is a huge concern. With impressionable minds, children can easily become victims of whatever that is going on around them.
Keep the ambience at home positive and remove them from any ongoing toxicity as these could be factors that affect their mental health in the long run. Let them unplug and recharge. That means no social media when it's time to go to bed. Instead, perhaps bring them for a walk around the neighbourhood to spot some interesting sights. It could be a game of sorts that helps them learn as well. Have them help you prepare mid-afternoon snacks.
5. Teaching them about Mindfulness.
Learning about mindfulness gives a child a greater degree of control over their thoughts. When we introduce Mindfulness to children, we will help build up their confidence, teach them to cope with stress and relate to uncomfortable or challenging moments. Mindfulness helps shape 3 critical skills in early childhood:
- Paying attention and remembering information.
- Shifting back and forth between tasks.
- Behaving appropriately with others. These executive functions are essential for advanced tasks like planning, reasoning, problem-solving, and positive social relationships.