We place a lot of emphasis on children’s mental health. We don’t want them to feel pain, anxiety or sadness. So what do we do? We give them therapy and medication. In fact, over the past 15 years, the number of young people taking medication for anxiety or depression has doubled.
Children and teens are more aware of mental health issues now than ever before. From ADHD to anxiety and autism, if a child doesn’t yet have a label, many of their classmates probably do. And they’re probably on medication and/or in therapy for that label.
It’s a great thing that we’re concerned about the mental health of our kids. It’s great to get them the help they need. But have we reached the point of labeling even normal developmental challenges as diagnosable disorders? Are the steps we’re currently taking creating healthy, drug-free kids? Are we really laying the groundwork for solid mental health that will help them make drug-free decisions later in life?
The Long-Lost Secret
Rather than focus so much on pharmaceuticals and psychiatric therapy, why not get back to the basics of mental health? Let’s teach kids to be resilient.
Resiliency is defined as “the human ability to recover quickly from disruptive change or misfortune without being overwhelmed or acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways.” This sounds like a great trait to have and a great way to stay drug-free. So how can we develop it in our kids?
First, we have to give them healthy structures and expectations. Next, we have to be willing to let them experience natural consequences - it helps them develop natural problem-solving abilities. Every single argument with a classmate is not cause for a bullying intervention. Anxiety over a test doesn’t mean they have a disorder. Let’s teach them to work through things. As they get older, they’ll know how to cope with challenges and be less likely to turn to drugs as a solution.
Following are five ways to foster this type of resilience:
- Encourage Connections: Let your child know she must be a friend in order to get friends. Help her develop friendship-making skills. Teach her empathy. Set the example by building a strong network of your own friends and family.
- Teach Goal Setting and Attaining: Show her how to set reasonable goals and work toward them. Encourage celebrations of small progress. Teach her to focus on accomplishments, rather than everything that still needs to be done or wasn’t successfully done. This will build resilience for coping with challenges.
- Seek Self-Discovery: Don’t miss opportunities to help her learn about herself. What did she learn from a difficult situation? What strengths did she use to face it? How is she different today, compared to how she used to be?
- Demonstrate Balance: A balanced lifestyle creates a healthy foundation to withstand stressful times. Teach her to eat properly, get the right amount of exercise and ensure quality sleep. Encourage downtime to relax. She doesn’t need every moment of her day to be scheduled with activities.
- View Change as Normal: Change can be a challenge, even for adults. Let her know change is part of life. Explain that new goals, new challenges and new opportunities exist at each turn of events. Instill a positive view of change, so she has resilience in the face of it.
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