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Supporting your child's mental health

How to talk to your child

Healthy communication is a must for strong relationships with our children. Check out these tips for how to engage with your child in meaningful ways through all that life brings.

Building vocabulary

Whether things are going great or there is struggle, identifying how we are feeling is a key to working through issues and communicating effectively. Help your child build their vocabulary of feelings. You can do this by modeling using feeling words: “I was disappointed today when my friend didn’t do what she said she would.” You can also ask them questions to help know more about how they’re feeling: “I see that you were angry when you had to come inside for dinner. Did you feel frustrated or sad that play time was over?”

Here are some words to get you started:

  • Happy
  • Proud
  • Strong
  • Important
  • Cared for
  • Appreciated
  • Respected
  • Honored
  • Cheerful
  • Liked
  • Exhausted
  • Courageous
  • Hopeful
  • Pleased
  • Excited
  • Smart
  • Empowered
  • Impatient
  • Unhappy
  • Disappointed
  • Helpless
  • Jealous
  • Resentful
  • Bitter
  • Sad
  • Hopeless
  • Guilty
  • Unloved
  • Hurt
  • Angry
  • Abandoned
  • Gloomy

When things are going well

The perfect time to work on building great communication with your child is actually when everything is going well. Everyone is more willing to share when it’s positive, so take the opportunity to connect in new ways. This builds trust and positive relationships that children will rely on!

Try these ideas

  • Connect with your child on a regular basis.
  • Ask about how things are going for them and listen to what they share.
  • Get involved with things they enjoy.  Sometimes talking is easier when you’re doing something!
  • Share things you’re each grateful for.
  • Notice qualities you admire or respect about your child and tell them!
  • Assure your child that they can always come to you and remind them that no matter what it is, you want to hear what they have to say.

Conversation Starters

  • “Tell me more about…”
  • “Tell me about something that’s going really well for you right now?”
  • “I’d love to hear what you think about…”

When things are tough

There will be seasons of parenting where communicating with our children can be a bit harder. This might be because of busy schedules, differences in opinion, lack of time together or many other reasons. Don’t give up! Press in and keep working to connect. You children need and want it!

Try these ideas

  • Make intentional, daily conversation a priority.
  • Ask how your child is feeling about the change/new season of life.
  • Validate their feelings and thoughts, even if you don’t feel the same.
  • Make time for fun together!  Remember, sometimes it’s easier to talk when you’re involved in an activity.
  • Remind your child that you love them and want to hear anything they want to share.

Conversation starters

  • “I know life has been so busy lately.  How does that make you feel?”
  • “I’ve missed talking to you.  Can we find a time to hang out, just the two of us?”
  • “How are you feeling about…”
  • “What do you think we could do to get things back on track?”

When something is wrong
There will be times in life when events happen that impact your family.  It might be a death, divorce, move, etc.  These are the times when your children will fall back on the routines and comfort of what’s familiar.  Use what you’ve been doing when things were good and lean into conversations about the hard parts of life.

Try these ideas

  • Schedule a family meeting or one-on-one time to talk specifically about what’s going on.
  • Listen with the intent to understand where your child is coming from, not to solve the problem.
  • Share your own thoughts and feelings.
  • Model for them how you are coping and processing what’s going on.  
  • Be honest!  Our children know when things aren’t okay and will value being able to talk honestly about the issue.

Conversation Starters

  • “I’m here to listen to anything you want to tell me about…”
  • “How are you feeling in this moment?”
  • “What do you need from me to feel _____________ (safe, loved, heard, etc)?”
  • “I’m willing to share my thoughts if that’s something that would help you.”

For more information on effective communication, see these resources:

Article from Center for Effective Parenting

Article from Smarter Parenting

Article from Center for Parenting Education


What is mental health and why does it matter?

First, let’s take a look at what exactly mental health is and why it matters.  Mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological, emotional, and social well-being.

It impacts many areas of life:

  • how we think, feel, and act
  • decision making
  • interactions with others
  • how we make choices
  • how we handle stress  
  • physical health

Ways to support your child:

  • Make sure they are getting adequate sleep
  • Ensure they have plenty of time to exercise/be physically active
  • Help them establish a balanced diet
  • Encourage them to have strong, healthy relationships (both within the family and with friends)

Spend time together as a family

Spending time together as a family is a great way to support your children!  Here are some fun activities to consider doing together:

  • Have meals together - make it a priority.

  • Take advantage of car time to chat about life.

  • Have consistent family meetings.

  • Implement monthly (or weekly) game nights.

  • Have special “dates” with each child individually for some quality one-on-one time.

  • Commit to weekly check-ins that allow children to share how things are going.


Open communication

Open communication with our children is critical to supporting their mental health!  Establishing quality time for connecting through conversation is so important so that when something is wrong they already feel comfortable coming to us.  

Remember to…

  • Listen first - make sure they know you hear what they’re saying and aren’t just waiting to respond.
  • Seek to understand their perspective - ask questions and genuinely work to understand where your child is coming from.
  • Validate their feelings/thoughts - even if you disagree or don’t understand, make sure to acknowledge their feelings and thoughts as valuable and important.
  • Remind them they are loved - even during conflict or communication that feels difficult, the main goal is for your child to feel loved and supported by you!

 

If you sense that your child is struggling, don’t be afraid to get help!

  • Use their support system.
    • Are there coaches, teachers, or other adults your child connects with? Loop them in and ask them to stay engaged and actively connecting with your child.
  • Use school personnel.
    • Teachers and counselors are available and always willing to support your child. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for some assistance.
  • Use community resources.
    • There are many organizations within our community that work to support families. Ask your child’s school if you’d like more information on those places.

Browse other Family Talk topics below:

  • Top 10 tips for supporting your child with homework

    Check out the ideas below for ways to support students of all ages in doing homework at home.

    1. Prep the space 
      • Limit distractions
      • Have comfortable seating with a desk or other surface to work on
      • Make sure needed materials are close by
      • Consider lighting and background noises 
    2. Getting started
      • Help your child get settled into the space
      • Confirm your child understands the assignment
    3. Check-in
      • Make sure your child is staying focused
      • Check that your child is making progress
    4. Follow-up
      • Check to make sure work has been completed
      • Encourage your child to review work for errors
      • For younger children, help them get work into backpack, ready to turn in
    5. Celebrate
      • Provide specific praise for work habits and effort
      • Acknowledge when work has felt hard and your child showed perseverance
      • Get excited about your child’s accomplishments
    1. Make it a habit
      • As much as possible, stick to the same routine each day for your child’s homework time
      • When the schedule needs to change, communicate that and be clear about when homework will be done
      • Encourage your child to be as independent as possible in getting into the daily routine
    1. Learn together
      • Take advantage of nights with no assigned homework to learn something new together
      • Sit with your child and have him/her teach you about what they’re learning in school
      • Ask questions and be interested
      • Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” if your child asks a question.  Search for answers together
    2. Make it calm
      • Even if the afternoon/evening feels busy, try to make homework time feel calm and relaxed
      • Keep a quiet, calm voice even if your child is frustrated
      • Stay positive and help your child work through challenges
    3. Keep it fun
      • Explore topics that your child is excited about
      • Go read or study in the backyard or at a park on a nice afternoon
      • Think of ways to spice up learning with fun at home
        • Play games to study for a test
        • Use silly voices to practice spelling words
        • Act out scenes from a novel or history lesson
    1. Think life skills
      • Learning isn’t just done through homework from school
      • Involve your child in activities around the house to help build important skills
        • Cooking and baking
        • Yard work
        • Projects around the house
        • Laundry
        • Caring for younger siblings

    What is the purpose of homework?

    In general, there are four main reasons students will have homework:

    1. To provide further opportunities for practice of concepts
    2. To finish work that was started in class but not completed
    3. To work on a project that needs extended time
    4. To give families a glimpse into what is being learned at school

    Tips to set up your child for homework success

    Most importantly, work with your child to make decisions as much as possible so that they feel a sense of ownership over their time!

    Consider:

    • Where? Find a space in your home that is free of distractions and comfortable for learning.
    • When? Discuss with your child the time of day they feel most ready to work. Do they prefer to get it done immediately when they get home or have a break for a while. Agree to a time, and stick to it as best you can.
    • What? Consider what materials need to be close by so your child doesn’t have to spend time hunting for things instead of working.
    • What else? Have a conversation with your child about what he/she feels is needed to have success working at home.

    How to support your child’s learning

    • Ask your child what type of support he/she would like to have to feel successful.
    • Make the goal supportive, but not intrusive. Be available, but don’t hover. We want our children to be able to work independently as much as possible.
    • Set clear guidelines for how your child can ask for help.
    • Help them get started, check in frequently (as needed) and follow up at the end to ensure it is complete. As students become more independent this process might look more like a quick check-in to get started and once they are done, without the need for support during.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher for help if there is an issue. Teachers want and need to know when something isn’t going well at home so they can adjust learning in the classroom. Send a quick email to let them know if you hit a trouble spot, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!

    When helping our children find success with homework, parents will likely have a time when behavior issues arise. Typically, what looks like “bad” behavior on the outside is a way that children show us they’re struggling on the inside. Look beyond the behavior and get to the real issue by remembering to…

    • Listen! Allow your child to feel that their emotions and concerns are heard and understood.
    • Provide support! Ask if they would like help brainstorming ways to work through the problem/frustration instead of simply telling them what to do.
    • Be consistent! Children crave routine and structure, even if they seem to fight it. So, make that learning time consistent and safe. There may be push back, but you’ll see progress once the routine is well established.
    • Create connections! If your child is struggling to understand a concept, dig in and learn together. Ask questions and work to build interest. Share about a time school was hard for you and how you handled it.
  • Have you ever noticed that bad habits seem easy to pick up, while the positive habits can seem difficult to master? Check out the tips below to help you, and everyone in your family, create positive, lasting habits!

    Positive habits help to

    • Build a sense of responsibility and independence
    • Increase productivity
    • Boost self-esteem and increase emotional well-being
    • Lower stress

    Listen to the latest Andover Airwaves podcast about healthy habits:


     

    Steps to create positive habits

    “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become,” James Clear, Atomic Habits.

    Habit Stacking

    Creating a new routine or habit can be challenging. One way to make it easier is to try habit stacking! Think of a habit that you already have established, then “stack” a new habit onto it. Our brains love to make connections, so attaching something new to something you already do will help you remember to complete the new task.   

    Example: Your child wants to create a habit of reading for 10 minutes in the morning before school. She is already in the habit of eating breakfast every day.  She can stack reading onto eating breakfast to help her brain remember to perform the new task.

    Reflect and Celebrate!

    Anytime we are working to create a new habit, it is important to build in checkpoints or intentional times to stop and reflect on how things are going. Make necessary changes to your behavior. Then, celebrate what is going well and reward yourself! This process builds stamina and a desire in our brains to continue the behavior.