New Year Resolutions for Parents — Part 1: Supporting Childhood Mental Wellness

New Year’s Resolutions tend not to last very long…

But maybe that’s because you’re not doing them right.

This year, why not resolve to put practical, productive and achievable plans into action…

To promote mental wellbeing for your children (and yourself).

The combination of each of these small acts will help you to help your children have a prosperous year.

And happy and healthy children make for happy and healthy parents!

1. Make a routine. 

The easiest way to stick to your resolutions is to make them part of a routine.

A solid routine doesn’t need to be rigid…

But it does need to be consistent.

This consistency helps to enforce good habits.

And the predictability and familiarity that comes with it helps kids to feel secure and safe.

So whatever unexpected challenges are thrown at them at school or with friends…

They’ll always know exactly what they’re coming home to.

Think of the things you’d like to add to you or your child’s routine (perhaps some of the things we’ll list below)…

And frame them around daily events that already occur:

Meal times, bath times, or travel times to and from school are a good place to start.

Mental Health Benefits: Stability; security; comfort; trust; familiarity.

2. Limit screen time. 

It’s not just kids’ eyesight or concentration that makes excessive screen time problematic…

Research shows that youth mental health is suffering as a result of social media and smart phones.

Increased anxiety, poorer sleeping habits and feelings of loneliness and isolation are just some of the alleged symptoms.

Enforcing ‘no screen zones’ gives your children a break from this constant ‘digital noise’.

Make it easy, productive and not-so-obvious by replacing screen time with family talking time!

Start with car trips and meal times, and then work on stretching out no-screen zones throughout the day.

Mental Health Benefits:  Sense of mental ‘quiet’; improved focus; distraction from online comparisons; perspective; improved sleep.

And on that note…

3. Support good sleeping habits. 

Children and teenagers especially — physically and mentally — suffer from lack of sleep.

It makes us more emotional, less resilient, and makes it difficult to concentrate.

Research shows that lack of sleep affects self-regulation; that is, our ability to control our cognitive functions, our emotions, and our behaviour.

Furthermore, when a child can’t concentrate in class because of fatigue, it can lead to poor performance, anxiety around school and low self-esteem.

To help your child develop healthy sleeping habits:

Encourage them to stay away from screens, TV or otherwise, for at least an hour before bed…

Make sure they avoid sugar or caffeine in the evenings…

Support consistent (and age-appropriate) sleeping and waking times…

And make sure their bedroom provides a good environment for sleep; that is, not too much light, noise, or distractions.

If sleep problems seem to persist, consider other causes, such as anxiety or a sleep disorder. 

Mental Health Benefits: Self-regulation; focus; self-esteem; resilience.

4. Assign chores. 

Getting your kids to contribute to household duties has a number of benefits:

It helps to get things done, of course, but it also helps them to feel competent, and that they’re contributing to the family and the home.

It teaches them responsibility, and encourages appreciation for all the things that you do for them.

And it develops important, practical skills they will need to be self-sufficient adults.

It also has the added bonus of implicit screen-free time — it’s pretty hard to play on your phone while doing the dishes!

Mental Health Benefits: Gratitude; competence; contribution; accomplishment.

5. Encourage physical activity and healthy eating. 

Aside from the obvious physiological benefits of a healthy lifestyle…

A nutritious diet and physical activity have a profound impact on our mental health.

Exercise helps to fight depression by releasing endorphins — those chemicals in our brain that make us feel good.

It also helps reduce inflammation which has been linked with depression and anxiety

And it encourages brain activity that supports feelings of calm and wellbeing.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can also do the same thing:

A recent study of 12,000 participants found that those who increased their daily fruit and veg intake experienced a dramatic increase in life satisfaction…

‘Equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment!’ 

Exercise and healthy eating also improve sleeping habits, which aids good mental health.

Mental Health Benefits: Release of endorphins; increased energy, reduced fatigue; improved concentration and memory.

6. Practice gratitude. 

Studies show that a sense of gratitude has a huge impact on our sense of life satisfaction.

And by encouraging your children to feel grateful for the small things, you’ll help them to appreciate the bigger picture.

Start small:

Simple questions like ‘what was the best thing that happened at school today?’ get kids to look on the bright side more often — and be thankful for it.

Being appreciative for the big and small things in our lives helps us to develop empathy, compassion and resilience.

And it also helps to quiet our negative thoughts. 

Mental Health Benefits: Resilience; empathy; positivity; confidence.

7. Practice Mindfulness. 

As little as thirty seconds a day of mindfulness can have a huge impact on our mental health.

And educators around the world are adopting meditation in their classrooms!

It’s a practical and effective antidote to the pressures in the classroom…

And it’s a skill that becomes easier the more you do it.

Meditation and mindfulness help to quiet and soften our internal dialogue…

When we’re overwhelmed with challenges in our social life, school or home, these quiet moments help to remind us that our anxious and negative thoughts are just that: thoughts.

There are many meditation apps designed specifically for kids…

But you can also practice mindfulness together as a family.

Mental Health Benefits: Reduced anxiety; positivity; resilience; calm; improved sleep.

8. Make time for family time, and talk openly and often

As parents, you are the most influential people in your children’s lives.

They rely on you for support, emotionally and practically…

So taking the time from your schedule to connect and bond with them is incredibly important and beneficial.

For a start, making family time a priority shows kids that they are valued, respected and important.

It helps them to voice their thoughts, feelings and concerns.

It develops trust between parent and child, so that they are comfortable coming to you when they are in need.

And it makes parents more aware of their child’s strengths, weaknesses and challenges, so that they can be addressed as they occur, and before they worsen.

Specifically designated family time, like weekend activities, is important, but you can also make time for bonding in your every day routine:

Over dinner, during car trips, while cooking together, or on a walk around the block..

However you fit it in, make sure to converse with your child often, show them that they can trust you and you won’t be judgmental, and prove to them that your time together is valuable and important.

Mental Health Benefits: Comfort; trust; security; emotional intelligence; empathy; understanding.

Incorporate all these New Year’s Resolutions into your daily life to support mental wellness and prosperity for your whole family this year.

It’s not as hard as it may seem…

Try this mental-health makeover to your day:

Make no screen zones for car rides and meal times, and talk about the best things that happened in your days — this immediately incorporates 2, 6 and 8.

Get your kids to help with preparing healthy dinner and clean up afterwards, and do it together — that’s 4, 5 and 8.

Put the phones away an hour before bed time, and try meditating for five minutes or more, together or independently — that can satisfy 2, 3, 7 and 8.

And by incorporating at least a few of these actions into your everyday life, you’re already mastering number 1!

Here’s to mental wellness in 2018!

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