How­to­helpy­our child’s men­tal health

The Jewish Chronicle - - EDUCATION - BYRACHELVECHT Rachel Vecht writes at www. ed­u­cat­ing­mat­ters.co.uk

ONE OF the great­est gifts a par­ent can give a child is to help him or her be­come “emo­tion­ally ar­tic­u­late” so they can recog­nise, ex­press and man­age their feel­ings. Emo­tional in­tel­li­gence (EQ) is ar­guably more im­por­tant to get through life than IQ and em­ploy­ers are in­creas­ingly look­ing for ways to mea­sure EQ when re­cruit­ing.

The state of chil­dren’s men­tal health has been men­tioned in the press a great deal re­cently. As a par­ent coach/ed­u­ca­tor speak­ing to thou­sands of par­ents, I have also no­ticed many more par­ents in­creas­ingly rais­ing is­sues such as their child’s self­es­teem, anx­i­ety, anger, eat­ing dis­or­ders, self-harm­ing and de­pres­sion.

Many schools ap­pre­ci­ate how im­por­tant it is to put pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures in place to sup­port chil­dren’s men­tal health. JFS has in­tro­duced a “health hut” — a com­fort­able space for stu­dents to book an ap­point­ment and chat with var­i­ous ex­ter­nal pro­fes­sion­als three times a week about any is­sues con­cern­ing them. Six­th­form­ers are trained to de­liver pro­grammes to sup­port the younger years. At Im­manuel Col­lege, year heads are trained in men­tal-health is­sues such as anx­i­ety and eat­ing dis­or­ders. The whole Im­manuel com­mu­nity is taught about re­spect­ing and valu­ing the im­por­tance of good men­tal health and how to achieve it.

The most ef­fec­tive way to re­spond when a child of any age is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a dif­fi­cult emo­tion is to ac­knowl­edge your child’s per­spec­tive and em­pathise. You don’t have to agree or give in. How­ever, dur­ing melt­downs, it is the worst ap­proach for par­ents to deny feel­ings, give ad­vice or ask ques­tions. What chil­dren need first is em­pa­thy: ac­knowl­edge their up­set so they feel heard and un­der­stood.

Haim Ginott, the Is­raeli-born, 20th-cen­tury child psy­chol­o­gist said, “Whilst we can find our child’s be­hav­iour to be un­ac­cept­able at times, his or her feel­ings should never be.”

Us­ing the anal­ogy of an ice­berg, the tip is a child’s be­hav­iour: this is what par­ents tend to re­act to. In­stead, par­ents need to ad­dress the main is­sue, the child’s feel­ings and emo­tions, which are 90 per cent of the prob­lem, and un­der the sur­face.

Par­ents can act as an emo­tion coach for their chil­dren, us­ing “re­flec­tive lis­ten­ing”. Ac­knowl­edg­ing and la­belling emo­tions has proven to have a sooth­ing ef­fect on the ner­vous sys­tem, help­ing chil­dren re­cover more quickly. This tech­nique is the ba­sis of many forms of psy­chother­apy.

Next time your child is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a dif­fi­cult emo­tion:

Put your own emo­tions and wishes to one side and ob­serve your child. Look at their body lan­guage, tone of voice and lis­ten to what they say.

Imag­ine how your child is feel­ing and re­flect that back to them in words. You can take an ed­u­cated guess and even if you are wrong, your child will still feel re­spected, val­i­dated and heard. For in­stance, if your child can’t do some­thing rather than say­ing, “don’t be silly, it’s easy”, say: “You look re­ally frus­trated. You have tried so many times.”

It also helps to de­scribe their re­sis­tance, for in­stance: “You wish you didn’t have to go to bed. You want to stay up late like mummy.”

Par­ents mainly want to fix the prob­lem quickly and make it go away. How­ever, it is bet­ter to lis­ten first and talk through the emo­tion. Ad­dress the un­wanted be­hav­iour and prob­lem-solve later.

Emo­tions are there to be felt and then they can move on.

It takes prac­tice and de­ter­mi­na­tion to stay calm and em­pathise, es­pe­cially dur­ing tantrums and melt­downs. It is the best tool a par­ent has — to com­mu­ni­cate, con­nect and en­cour­age chil­dren to be more emo­tion­ally ar­tic­u­late.

Do this ef­fec­tively and the im­pact on your child’s long-term men­tal health and well-be­ing will be enor­mous.

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It takes prac­tice to stay calm and em­pathise

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