Supporting the Mental Health of your child

How can you become more aware of supporting the Mental Health of your child?

Firstly I encourage you to read or re read my article ‘Minding your mental health so you can mind your child’s’

You have some hope of facilitating your child toward wellness when you are actively and concurrently supporting your own wellness.

If you are supporting yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually and intellectually you could have more of a capacity to feel open, have energy, interest, intuition and enthusiasm for your child’s needs.

You could ‘fake it until you make it’ in relation to your own self-care! You may not feel like going to your dance class, your yoga class or choir practice.  However before you know it once you are there you could find yourself having an enjoyable and rewarding evening.

So let’s say that your own oxygen mask is on, you are breathing in healthy air and you are feeling well and balanced in yourself– you now could have enough energy to tend to your child’s needs.

Supporting wellness in your child is different and ironically tends to be the same during all stages of his childhood. Your child always needs connection (even when he says he doesn’t!!)

He needs to feel that he is (for the most part) unconditionally loved by you.

What I am learning more as a mother is that the time I give and spend with my children in a Mindful way seems to support them in their ability to blossom and feel fairly safe and interested in their world.

Also I need to state pretty much at the start of this article. My life is not perfect, my children are not perfect and I am certainly not perfect. Interestingly my journey toward my own self compassion for my imperfections gives my children, husband and I room to accept how perfectly imperfect we ALL are!!!

As long as you are human you are going to fall, make mistakes and mindful parenting is about becoming aware of how you could live consciously as perfectly imperfect people in our perfectly imperfect world. 

What could support your child toward wellness?

There are many different ways to support your child to feel comfortable in his own skin.

In this article I will write about the importance of hugging your child, using ‘Time-In’ as a supportive parenting intervention, massaging your child, implementing Floor Time and carrying out mindful holistic nutrition. Consciously providing these for your child has the potential to impact both you and him positively.

Conscious Hugging and Implementing Time- In

There is concrete evidence of the importance of touch for your baby in utero (having a massage during your pregnancy can benefit both you and baby).

Your New Born benefits from touch, your child, your pre-teen, your teenager and you the adult.

Safe touch could remind your child that they are lovable, they are safe and they are wanted.

The way you hold your children will differ according to their ages.

My experience has been that ‘Time-In’ (consciously holding them) is more effective than ‘Time-Out’ or the naughty step.

Usually the behaviour of your child is his way of straining to communicate to you. If you look closely enough and refrain from getting distracted with his behaviour (especially if it is negative) you could explore what he needs.

For example:  Your child is refusing to eat his porridge in the morning and is crying uncontrollably. He could be displaying anger by throwing his spoon on the floor. You could be mindful and wonder whether he has had a bad dream during the night.  He may need your support, love and guidance.  When he refuses to eat his porridge and is ‘acting out’ this could be his way of trying to communicate to you– You could choose to carry out ‘time-in’ with him. You could experience that when you hold him closely and rub his back he eventually seems to have enough support within to pick up the dropped spoon, choose a clean one, sit down and finish his porridge.

He could move on with his day and you can move on with yours. You have both connected with each other.

There is hopefully little shaming, guilt or regret from either side.

If you choose ‘time out’ which is quite a common intervention – (usually when you are running on empty and haven’t attended to your own needs) both parties could be left feeling shame, distress, regret and bad feeling.

He may go to school without any breakfast and without close contact from you.

The benefits of Mindful Massage

I encourage you to experiment with massaging your child at some of their bedtimes. You could apply deep pressure to his body using essential oils.

As I have written touch is not a luxury for any of us it is a necessity.

Being properly touched in a safe way could regulate and support his immune system, lymphatic system and nervous system. It could help prevent colds, the flu or respiratory infections to name but a few!

Also by giving massage to your child you could also benefit and potentially feel peace and happiness from the experience. You have made a connection with each other.

If you receive mindful massage regularly (from a therapist or spouse) then you could have more interest, capacity and ability to carry out massage on your child.

Connecting together through Floor Time

Another useful tool you could explore along the way as a Mindful Parent is floor time – Your child could love when you actively play with him.

You could put on the alarm on your phone and possibly play with him for 30 to 45 minutes a couple of times per week. During Floor Time it is vital that your child leads the play and he tells the adult what toy or toys he wants you to play with. He is in charge of where he wants the toys to be positioned and what he wants the toys to say!

At all times he leads the play.

It is a huge gift for your child to have this uninterrupted contact with you. You could help heighten his self-esteem; you could support him in regulating and understanding his emotions. He could process how he makes sense of his world through this special time of 1:1 play.

You potentially could support him to learn how to play. You could see that after the 45 minutes of giving him your time he could continue to use his imagination with his siblings.

Play is not a luxury for your child it is an absolute necessity.  Play is good for you too!!

If you have more than one child you could all play floor time together and the children could take turns with who is in charge.

Mindful Holistic Nutrition

To follow on from this I would like to write something about Nutrition. The optimum way for a child to eat is when he is feeling calm and safe in himself. I have heard it said that a child is better off eating ‘fast food’ if he is feeling calm and safe than a super food smoothie if he is feeling fearful, distressed and triggered by a hostile environment. E.g. if  a Mum is quite distressed in herself and acting out by using a raised voice or carrying out corporal punishment as a means of controlling what the child eats.

Maybe by making small realistic changes you could start becoming passionate, interested and mindful about how you put food into your body – for example do you eat quickly and with anxiety or do you taste each mouthful and enjoy your food?

What food do you mainly put into your body and the bodies of your children? How are you in yourself when you are preparing the food? Are you connected with yourself? Are you connecting with your child?

What you eat and how you eat your food could have a positive impact on you all intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

For a Modern family what might work best is the 70-30% rule. You could be open to eating whole food approximately 70% of the time and allow yourself to indulge in a more processed diet 30% of the time.

This allows you and your child to enjoy birthday parties, treats and pre prepared food whilst visiting friends and family. The 30% also allows you to support yourself if you have a lot of other demands on you on some particular days.

It’s all about balance.

If you are  demanding of yourself  or of your child to eat ‘healthily’ whilst in a frenzied state then the nutritional value of what you have ingested could be diminished hugely by how stressed you are all feeling in your bodies. This is especially true if you are making choices out of fear and control.

You could be a work in progress on Mindful Eating.

This could be an exciting challenge for you and your family. Geneen Roth an American writer is passionate about this topic and you can follow her on social media.

Your journey toward eating real food could take many years and it will begin with your first step. Maybe you have already begun.

If you make drastic changes you will probably not follow through. When you make little and realistic changes these are the changes that tend to last.

Having a good support network of other mums and people who are passionate about wholefood eating could help you to become more confident and comfortable at times on your journey. There are many excellent groups that you could get concrete support from.

There are many wonderful professional and experienced practitioners from the field of homeopathy, nutrition, kinesiology and psychotherapy etc. in Limerick.  You could also learn a lot from particular wholefood social media pages and internet sites which you could follow.

The ideal is to explore what is best and what food is best for you and your family.

Your child learns from how you live rather than how you tell him to live.

Of course as Louise Hay would say ‘Each and every one of us are doing the very best we can with our knowledge, awareness and experience’

This is not about pointing the finger back on you or pointing the finger at anyone else. If you are giving your child a fizzy drink at least you are giving him fluids and you may not even know that in one serving of a cola drink there could potentially be 8 spoons of refined sugar. Sugar can compromise his immune system and is now linked with depression and low mood in adults and children. This is more relevant if he is having sugary drinks quite regularly.

Yes nutrition is very important and how you ingest and how are feeling in yourself when you eat is as important.

It’s about informing yourself as a parent and being compassionate when you aren’t so ‘perfect’. Easier said than done – for more support please read my first article – how to Mind your Mental Health so you can mind your child’s.

I briefly share with you in my previous article some ideas for your own self-care that could potentially support your child’s mental health too.

Firstly before you implement anything for your child I encourage you to look after your own needs.

Thank you for taking this time to inform yourself as a parent.

You and your child are so precious and have so much potential.

I wish you well on your journey toward becoming a Mindful Good Enough Parent.

You are doing your absolute best with your knowledge, awareness and experience.

You are perfectly imperfect just as you are.

My hope for you is that you have many hours of connecting through mindful massage, floor time, time- in and sharing ideas together about whole food.

Wishing you the very best of luck, lots of fun and deep connection with your child.

Harriet Mc Guigan is a practicing psychotherapist with MyMind Mental Health Matters and has her own private practice. Harriet provides talks on Mindfulness to Groups that work directly and indirectly with children. She also speaks to people who have an interest in living mindfully. You can contact Harriet on 086 2685916.