May has been designated as Mental Health Month. On May 9, more than 1,100 communities and 115 federal programs and national organizations across the country will participate in events, youth demonstrations and social networking campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of children's mental health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these tips for keeping kids' mental health in mind at every age.
What Parents Can Do:
- Catch your child being good! Praise your child often for even small accomplishments like playing nicely with brothers or sisters, helping to pick up toys, waiting her turn, or being a good sport.
- Find ways to play with your child that you both enjoy every day. Talk with your child, tell stories, sing, and make rhymes together. It is especially important to try and reconnect for a few minutes after separations. Include some type of regular physical activity such as a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood.
- Seek ways for your child to play with other children of the same age. Make sure they are watched by a trusted adult.
- Read with your child every day as part of a special family routine. Turn off the TV before the evening meal, have conversations with your children during the meal, get baths/showers after the meal, and read books with your children in preparation for bedtime. This will help children to settle down and sleep well at the end of the day.
- Limit screen time to no more than 2 hours daily for children 2 and older. The AAP does not recommend any screen time for children younger than 2 years of age. Never put a TV in a child’s bedroom. Parents should watch along with older children and try to put the right spin on what their children are seeing. Young children should not be exposed to violence on TV, including on the news. TV should not become a babysitter.
- Make time for a routine that includes regular family meals when parents and children can sit and talk about their day together. Play the “high-low” game by taking turns sharing the best and not-so-good parts of the day.
- Provide regular bedtime routines to promote healthy sleep. This time of day can become an oasis of calm and togetherness in the day for parents and children.
- Model behaviors that you want to see in your child. Parents are their child’s first and most important teachers, and what they do can be much more important than what they say. Be especially careful of criticizing teachers or other trusted adults in front of the child.
- Set limits for your child around safety, regard for others, and household rules and routines that are important to you. Ask others to use these with your child. Be consistent with limits for your child and encourage all caretaking adults to use the same rules. If you must enforce a rule, do this with supportive understanding.
- Don’t give in, but do quickly forgive. Do not hold a grudge for past mistakes. Encourage learning from mistakes so that they do not happen again.
- Teach your child to ask for help and identify who can help her when she needs it. Find opportunities to show her how to ask for help.
- Everyone experiences anger and stress! Help your child to find acceptable ways of working through these feelings. It is okay to be mad but never okay to hit or destroy property.
- Listen to and respect your child. Remind your child that he or she can always come to you to discuss concerns, fears, and thoughts. Calmly discuss the issues and talk to your child’s pediatrician with any concerns you might have as a result.
- Give choices when your child is oppositional (e.g., would you like me to carry you upstairs to bed or would you like to walk?) Help your child think of the consequences of her choices when she is demonstrating oppositional behavior.
For more information on caring for your child’s mental health, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.