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How Adults Can Protect the Mental Health of Children

Tips for Supporting Children's Mental Health

Children's' mental health is a topic gaining increased attention around the country. In Colorado, for instance, coaches are now required to take a mental health course in addition to CPR and first-aid training. Whether you're a parent, teacher, coach or anyone else who cares about kids, the following steps can help you safeguard the mental health of developing children.

Teach and reinforce positive decision-making. Provide kids with consistent expectations and support. By teaching children problem-solving, social skills and conflict resolution, you can support good mental health. Try to "catch" them being successful instead of doing the wrong thing. Positive feedback reinforces and validates behaviors that are valued by others.

Work to develop competencies. Kids need to know they have the power to accomplish goals and overcome challenges through their actions. In addition to academic success, children need to develop interests and talents that make them feel competent, confident and more equipped to deal with stress in a positive way.

Promote resilience. Since life is full of adversity, it's important for kids to develop resiliency that will allow them to overcome challenges. Instead of rushing to help a child when they face a minor problem, encourage them to come up with a solution on their own. Successfully facing challenging situations can foster resilience.

Promote a sense of belonging. Feeling welcomed and connected is essential to a child's self-identification, positive adjustment and sense of trust in themselves and others. Building positive relationships with parents, other students and school staff is important for good mental wellness. This can be especially critical during major life changes, including moving to a new school or having an older sibling move away from home.

Ensure a safe, positive environment at school. Feeling safe is critical to a child's well-being. Get involved with your school and communicate with staff members to prevent harassment and bullying. Work to promote positive behaviors, such as kindness, responsibility and respect. Teach children how to respond to a bully and encourage them to reach out to excluded or lonely peers. Ensure an adult is present in common areas, such as cafeterias, playgrounds, hallways and locker rooms.

Encourage communication. To get out in front of potential problems, it's important to encourage regular, open communication. Take steps to make sure the child feels comfortable approaching you with problems. Avoid judging or criticizing their thoughts, feelings or decisions. Remember that negative feedback will make the child feel hesitant to communicate with you in the future. Try to provide gentle guidance without saying things that might negatively impact the child's self-esteem.

Know the signs of trouble. Educate parents, school staff and students about common symptoms of mental health problems. Information can help break down stigmas and enable kids to recognize when to ask for help. School mental health professionals should provide information on symptoms of depression or suicide risk. These can include withdrawal, a change in habits, decreased social interaction, declining academic performance, increased physical complaints and erratic behavior.

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