Providing tools for developing good mental health

By Abby Betz, LSW

Youth First

As a parent or caregiver, it goes without saying that the task of taking care of our children is an important one – but also a great responsibility, at which we want to excel and do our best. Parents may be able to easily identify a child’s basic needs, including providing healthy and nutritious foods, a comfortable and inviting home, and instilling a reasonable bedtime and routine. However, a child’s mental-health needs may not be quite as obvious. A child’s physical and mental health are equally as important. Having good mental health will ensure your child is growing and developing new social skills, self-confidence, and a positive outlook on life. 

Basic needs for meeting a child’s physical health include maintaining a well-balanced diet, keeping up-to-date on immunizations, providing adequate shelter and sleep, opportunities for exercise, and an overall-healthy living environment. Meeting a child’s basic needs for emotional and mental health include providing unconditional love, giving appropriate guidance and discipline, instilling self-confidence and high self-esteem, and surrounding the child with positive peers, teachers and other caregivers to help foster positive conditions of self-worth. 

Providing your child with unconditional love should be central to family life. It is important for your child to know that your love does not depend on their achievements. Nurturing your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem is instrumental in your child’s ability to learn new skills and to feel safe in exploring their environment. 

Teaching and encouraging your children to try their best, but also enjoy the process fosters a sense of self-reliance and builds their esteem. Setting realistic goals that match their ambitions with abilities is also important to build confidence. 

Encouraging play is another important aspect of a child’s mental health. Play fosters creativity, problem-solving skills, and self-control. Learning how to get along with other children and developing a sense of belonging are key components of play that are helpful in children learning about their own strengths and weaknesses. TV use and devices can be used for educational play and purposes, but should be monitored and limited. 

Appropriate guidance and discipline are essential in helping a child learn that certain behaviors are not acceptable, and that the child is responsible for his/her actions. Offer discipline that is fair and consistent; be firm but realistic, with expectations. If you must, criticize the behavior – not the child. Avoid threats and bribery. Instead, talk about the reasons for disciplining your child and the potential consequences. It is also important to talk to your child about your feelings. Apologizing for losing your temper models the appropriate response to difficult situations. 

As parents, we want the best for our children. We must also heed the signs that there may be a problem that requires help from a professional. Some warning signs may include regular worry or anxiety, persistent nightmares, disobedience or aggression, frequent temper tantrums, depression, irritability, hyperactivity and decline in school performance. If you suspect a problem, talk with your child’s teacher or other caregivers, consult with your pediatrician, or contact a mental-health professional.    

Abby Betz, LSW, serves as the Youth First social worker at Holy Trinity School in Dubois County and Washington Catholic Schools.