Q&A with Melody Leung, Psychotherapist

Q1. What comes to mind when you think of mental wellness for children’?

Just like physical wellness, everyone needs to work towards mental wellness too.  Unfortunately, mental wellness isn’t always discussed openly so children haven’t had as much opportunity to learn how to take care of their mental health.

Mental wellness represents how we are feeling mentally.  Children who are feeling mentally well are often those that feel confident, are resilient, and satisfied with their lives.

Q2. What are some things that parents can do to promote mental wellness in their children?

Research has shown that positive early interactions can promote emotional and mental wellness later in life.  According to a study by Public Health Ontario (2015), there are a few ways that contribute to mental wellness. By supporting your child(ren) with these opportunities, your child will be better prepared to manage their mental health.

Provide opportunities to connect socially. Peer relationships are an important part of healthy development for children and adolescents.  A sense of belonging begins first in the family, but will also include among peers and the community.  Spend time with your children and help them know that he/she can turn to you whenever they need help.

Use positive parenting techniques.  Strategies that nurture positive relationships between children and their parents include nurturing a child’s individuality, promoting a warm and close relationship, and setting appropriate boundaries for the child.  Parents have a role to provide a safe and secure environment for their children, which involves being accepting and comforting when they face troubled times.

Help your child to build resilience. Resilience refers to the ability for one to adapt well in light of trauma, tragedy, stress, etc.  Resilience comes from learning and developing how to respond with protective behaviours, despite the negative situation they are facing.  This involves modelling and helping children to stand up in times of adversity instead of allowing negative situations to keep them down.

Reduce stigma about mental health.  Often there is a negative association and prejudice towards mental health.  It is estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience issues in their mental health. When stigma for mental health exists, it acts as a barrier to receiving mental health services.  Educate and recognize that individuals who struggle with mental illness still have many positive attributes and make contributions to their communities.

Increase physical health.  Physical activity and proper nutrition has been linked to improved mental health outcomes for children.  Making sure that children are well fed and participate in daily physical activity helps increase their protective factors for mental wellness.

Teach strategies to help foster and maintain good mental health to increase mental health literacy. Mental health literacy includes understanding how to foster and maintain positive mental health, understanding mental disorders and their treatments, decreasing stigma and effectively seeking health (Public Health Ontario, 2015).  Take time to listen and respect you child’s feelings – it’s okay to feel angry or sad, but encourage them to talk about how they feel. Teach children how to relax when they feel upset, such as deep breathing, quiet calming activities, going for a walk, etc.

Public Health Ontario. (2015). Identifying Areas of Focus for Mental Health Promotion in Children and Youth for Ontario Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/eRepository/MentalHealth_FinalReport_LDCP_2015.pdf

Q3. Are there resources that families can use to learn more about this important topic? 

Parents who are aware of their own mental health are better able to prepare and guide children into mental wellness. Improving and learning about positive parenting techniques can help with improving a safe and secure environment for your children.  Some well-known programs in Toronto teach positive parenting skills to parents.  Check out Triple P Parenting, City of Toronto ParentingandEarlyON Centresfor more information.

Some additional resources:

If you are concerned that your child is experiencing problems with their mental health, feel free to contact me for a consultation and/or discuss with your family do