The COVID-19 pandemic has raised concerns about the mental health of children around the world.
The State of the World’s Children report by UNICEF examines child mental health and calls for commitment, communication, and action in order to promote good mental health for every child.
Building a good base for mental health starts already when we are babies. There are multiple ways how educators too can support children's mental health. On the other hand, there are also some alarming signs that are good to be aware of.
How to lay the base for good mental health?
Adults play a super important key role in the lives of small children. When children are as little as 0-5 years old, the foundation for good and strong mental health, growth, learning, and happy and healthy life is built.
Little children look for love, affection, learning, and a feeling of safety. So what small children need the most is time together with safe, friendly, and familiar adults, their primary caregivers.
A lifetime of balanced mental health is constructed on top of a good and loving relationship. A relationship that makes children feel they are cared for, and secure and that they are special, important, and loved.
How to support children's mental health?
- Spending time together with familiar adults
- Playing together
- Cuddling, caring, showing affection and love
- Communicating with and talking
- Noticing initiatives, responding to baby sounds and expressions
- Taking care of primary needs (food, sleep, hygiene)
- Having a routine and safe, familiar environment to spend time at
- Showing emotions
- Supporting the child's interest in exploring the world
- Exploring the environment outside together
- Reading books together and naming objects around you
- Playing together and having fun
- Encouraging to learn new skills
- Spending time around other children and people in general
- Encouraging, supporting, and praising when practicing new skills
- Naming and learning about emotions as well as empathy
- Interacting with people
- Playing with other children
- Solving simple age-appropriate problems
- Helping with simple age-appropriate chores (eg. Please place your boots on the shoe rack!)
- Sticking to clear rules, boundaries, and routines (right - wrong)
- Providing clear age-appropriate options when making decisions about what to wear, eat or play (eg. Would you like to wear a blue or red hat?)
- Having respect for a child's personal choices, likes, and dislikes
What to look out for?
The smaller the child, the more often they have difficulties with expressing and managing emotions.
Emotions are big and strong, so being under an emotional drift may cause stress or even anger in children. When dealing with emotions, children need a supportive adult to help! For example, if a child gets a fit when a sock is falling off, the adult can take the child to sit on his lap, calm him down and put the sock back on together. Leaving children alone to deal with difficult emotions may make children feel stressed, sad, and unsuccessful. The perceptions of adults matter to children.
When situations get difficult with children, even adults can get cranky, annoyed or frustrated. Whatever the case, educators (as well as all adults in the lives of children) should always avoid all forms of violence, shouting, and verbal insults. A negative environment is harmful to a child's growth and development. It is important how adults behave around children.
Children are very sensitive and they have surprisingly big ears and exact memory. Therefore, it is important how adults talk around children. Adults should make sure there are no occasions when children could hear for example educators or parents arguing or fighting together. Tension in the environment can be stressful for children. Also if adults are talking negatively about other people in front of children, it may make children feel powerless or insecure.
Children are small and vulnerable, thus they need consistent attention and care in order to grow and develop in a healthy way. All sorts of neglect are harmful for children's development. Therefore, it is crucial to how adults treat children.
Simple ways to improve your mood
Here are still some simple ways that everyone can improve their mental health and mood!
- Sleep well - relax and rest
- Eat well - healthy snacks and enough water
- Move, exercise, and play outdoors
- Spend time with friends and people you care about
- Follow a well-functioning routine