Strategies on what works when it comes to promoting your child’s resilience, healthy sense of identity and mental well-being
Being a parent is undoubtedly one of life’s most rewarding and challenging journeys. It is beautiful, fulfilling, and often painful and trying. Though at the end of the day, almost every parent agrees on what matters most: their children’s happiness and well-being. Because of this, most parents want to do everything that they can to help their kids develop what they need to be resilient and thrive in their lives.
Parents: What you need to know about your child’s mental well-being
Let’s first look at some essential things for you to know.
Fact #1: Mental health problems often begin quite early in children
It is estimated that around 1 in 4 individuals will be affected by a mental health problem in their lifetime. On top of that, fifty percent of those issues begin by the young age of 14. In other words, emotional problems usually begin at a strikingly young age.
Fact #2: Parents play an important role in their children’s mental health
We know that the child-parent relationship is one of the most predictive factors of a child’s future mental health, meaning you play a vital role.
This fact is especially true early on in your child’s life when they are learning to make sense of themselves, others, and their circumstances. This belief system they will form will act as the foundation for their long-term well-being.
Parents play a significant role in shaping their children’s belief systems by modeling behaviors to their children: how you take care of yourself and how you deal with your emotions will all indirectly impact your child.
Parents can either promote or undermine the development of critical internal resources for children that will support them throughout their lives.
Fact #3: Healthy parenting isn’t natural for most people
First, it is essential to tackle a common misconception — and that is that healthy parenting occurs naturally. Understandably, many parents are surprised when they hear this because it’s an unconscious societal belief that we’ve internalized and that many generations haven’t questioned. The truth is that while parental instincts do come naturally, they are rarely healthy.
Parenting can be pretty overwhelming and activate chronic stress responses. This is why our unhealthy patterns often emerge in parenting, making it challenging to model healthy ways of being to our children.
The good news is that healthy parenting is something we can learn. Wondering what you, as a parent, can do to boost your child’s long-term mental well-being? Let’s get into that.
How can you promote the psychological resilience, healthy sense of identity, and mental well-being of your child?
Much research has been done in developmental psychology to understand the core elements of well-being. Researchers such as Richard Ryan and Edward Deci have been at the center of this research. Specifically, the questions that have been asked:
What does a child need to be resilient to difficult life experiences and live a fulfilling life?
How can parents promote rather than undermine these crucial processes?
Research has shown that there are some critical things that parents can do to nurture their children’s mental well-being. Here are three of the main ones.
#1 Learn to nurture their psychological needs
We all know it’s essential to meet our physical needs, but psychological needs are just as important. Researchers Richard Ryan and Edward Deci discovered that these three universal needs are crucial to a child’s emotional well-being:
Autonomy — A child needs to feel like they can make their own choices and live in a way that feels authentic to what matters to them.
Relatedness — A child needs to feel unconditionally loved and connected to others.
Competence — A child needs to feel competent in their ability to achieve their goals and desires.
If your child cannot meet one or more of these needs, this can put them at risk of developing mental health issues, which can impact the quality of their life, physical health, relationships, and professional lives. As a parent, you can create an environment for your child that will help them meet these needs. Thankfully, the research gives us insights into what parental behaviors promote or undermine these needs.
#2 Help them develop healthy ways of dealing with their emotions
The researchers mentioned above, along with many others, have studied the concept of emotion regulation. Emotion regulation is about how we manage our emotions, including difficult ones; how we process and express our feelings, and is thought to be a critical factor at the heart of mental health and well-being.
According to recent research, there are three emotion regulation styles, one of which has been associated with greater well-being, higher-quality relationships, and other positive outcomes. The other two are related to poor mental health and relationship difficulties.
Just like with psychological needs, we also have insights into what kind of environment a parent can create that will support their child in developing a healthy emotion regulation strategy and the types of parental behaviors associated with children developing unhealthy emotion regulation strategies.
#3 Do your own inner work
Just like I hinted at the beginning of this piece, any negative patterns you hold on to will show up in your parenting, whether or not you are aware of it. Most people go to their graves unaware of these patterns or without taking the time to confront and break them. But for those who do, the payoff is well worth it.
These unhealthy patterns are typically defense mechanisms you have developed in response to your environment, especially in childhood and adolescence. When they emerged, they served an important function. That function was to protect you from a psychological perspective.
But many of us hold on to these unhealthy behavioral patterns. This is usually subconsciously and out of fear, even though they are doing more harm than good today.
To illustrate this point, I’ll give the example of a friend whose patterns interfered with her parenting. This friend grew up around family members who had trouble dealing with their emotions.
Everyone around her would act out quite impulsively to their feelings. She became uncomfortable expressing her emotions because she worried about how they would react. She also did not want to be an added burden. When she developed that pattern of keeping her emotions in, this served her to some extent with her family, in the sense that it allowed her to not feel like she was hurting those she cared most about.
But she continued using that pattern unconsciously in other situations, which harmed her with time. Even if it were perfectly okay for her to express emotions, she would automatically withhold them. This prevented her from having the fulfilling relationships she wanted and impacted her relationship with her child, who did not feel connected to her mother. That is until she became aware of this pattern and began shifting to healthier ways of being.
If you genuinely want to show up as your best self for your child and reclaim agency over your life, now is the time to take an honest, compassionate, and vulnerable look at yourself. Regardless of what your patterns are, one thing is for sure. They won’t go away if you ignore them, and they will impact the habits and beliefs your child develops.
That being said, you mustn’t feel guilty or ashamed for having them. We all have negative patterns and cycles of behavior that don’t serve us well. That’s just part of being human. The goal is to learn to silence those self-sabotaging voices and to shift to healthier patterns. This will not only empower your child’s mental well-being, but it will also improve yours.
The bottom line
Every child is different, and every parent is different, but our fundamental needs and processes are the same. We already understand a lot in developmental psychology about the child-parent relationship and how a parent can best support their child and themselves. It would be a shame for you not to equip yourself with this valuable research and to go through this vital journey of breaking from old patterns.
You may not feel a sense of urgency right now. We never do until things go wrong. But you can choose to do things differently starting today.
The good news is that there are clear steps that you can take to promote your child’s long-term mental well-being.
By embarking on this journey, you will be helping your child learn to master their minds and shape their lives in the most meaningful way. On a larger scale, you will be contributing to a healthier society and planet as a whole.