How to protect your family's mental health
A psychologist answers your top questions about family well-being.
How do I keep my child motivated? What can I do to help protect my child's mental health? Psychologist and child development expert Dr. Lisa Damour answers these questions and more.
How do I approach the topic of mental health if it is considered to be a taboo in my family?
Experiencing a wide range of emotions, including uncomfortable feelings, is an important part of being human. You should not feel ashamed or be made to feel ashamed if you experience sadness, anger, frustration or any other feeling that can be sometimes painful. When we have uncomfortable emotions, the healthiest thing we can do is to talk about what we're feeling with the people that we love. Doing so is actually how we protect our mental health.
To start a conversation about mental health with your child, explain that mental health is a lot like physical health. Mentally healthy people sometimes feel emotional discomfort – such as feeling sad, angry, or upset - just as physically healthy people don’t always feel well. For both mental and physical health, it’s important to notice what we’re feeling and seek support from others when we don’t feel our best. Doing so almost always puts us on the path toward feeling better.
What can I do to help protect my child's mental health?
Nothing protects a child's mental health like having a warm and loving relationship with adults. So anything you do where your child is having fun and you're having fun with your child is good for your kid. That might be playing together, kicking a ball back and forth together. Or it can also be things like cooking dinner together or fixing something around the house. As long as your child is enjoying your company, what you are doing is good for your child's mental health.
How can I best balance providing attention to my child and my busy work schedule?
Raising young children takes a lot of time and energy, and it can be hard to juggle that with having a busy job. One thing that helps is to try to focus on only one thing at a time. Focus on your child or focus on your work. If you try to do both at the same time, you'll become frustrated and your child will become frustrated too. And remember, children grow up quickly. The phase of being a parent raising a very small child will be gone before you know it and soon everything will feel easier.
How do I keep my child motivated?
At times, it can be hard for kids to feel motivated. Sometimes they can feel tired and worn down. Don't worry that there's something wrong with your child if they don't always feel like doing their schoolwork or the work around the home. It's okay to support them by doing things such as offering to do your work next to them while they do homework that they're not in the mood to do, or finding playful ways to get things done around the home, such as making a game of it or having a plan to do something fun after the hard work is done.
How can I manage loneliness as a parent?
Being a parent can be a very lonely time of life. Working to meet your child's needs can make it hard to meet your own. As a solution, see if you can connect with another parent who's raising a child about the same age as yours, either talking over the phone or getting together. Other parents know what you're going through and make for excellent company.
How can I stay positive during hard times?
It's easy to feel despairing during difficult times. To help yourself feel better, one thing that works well is to focus on what you feel grateful for. A joyful moment with a child, a beautiful day, the presence of loved ones. When we practice gratitude, when we think about the things for which we are thankful, it almost always boosts our sense of well-being.
How can I help my child adjust to a big life change?
Change, by its nature, is stressful. This is true for unwanted changes, such as needing to move way from a home that one loves, and also for welcome changes, such as going on an exciting trip. There’s one key to helping children manage the stress that comes with change: prepare them for what to expect. When we tell children as much as we can about what will happen and answer their questions to the best of our ability we make it much easier for them to adapt to big life changes.
Dr. Lisa Damour (@lisa.damour) is a psychologist, author, New York Times contributor and mother of two.