How To Nurture a Child’s Mental Health

As Parents, we feel the responsibility every day of tending to all the needs of our children. What we know now is that our words and actions can have a lasting impact on our children. If we do not pause to reflect on our parenting, we may be missing the potential for opportunities to have a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

"When a child is looked upon with critical eyes, they carry that shame with them throughout their life." - Crystal Hardstaff

Think about the ways we speak to and treat our children like the intricate weaving of tapestry - it can be full and strong, or it can be weak and fall apart. As parents and caregivers, it’s important to recognise and understand that we have profound influence on our children. The perspectives and attitudes we hold are shaping our child’s self-esteem and emotional resilience. 

Understanding the Weight of Critical Eyes

Criticism can be defined as ‘the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes’. When children are subjected to criticism, whether stemming from judgment or disapproval, these critical attitudes can imprint deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and shame. We know that children who experience regular criticism suffer from insecurities that can affect their self-esteem, relationships, and mental health into adulthood. As adults, we must distinguish between what we perceive as correct or accurate, compared to what our child deems so. These often do not align, however, there can be truth in both perspectives.

Being a human is hard, and is made harder by lacking a supportive person when we make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of being human as no one is perfect, and often children are learning many things for the very first time. Think of a time when you made a mistake, how would it feel to be criticised and punished instead of being supported? It would probably make you feel worse about the situation and yourself, and you're less likely to own up to your mistakes from fear of being treated that way again. This can lead to problems such as secrecy and not turning to others for help when needed which is a very isolating and sometimes scary experience. We can find balance in celebrating their achievements big and small, and providing constructive feedback that is empowering rather than diminishing. 

Fostering a Culture of Acceptance and Support

The most effective approach to raising children is for parents and caregivers to build an environment that is nurturing, empathetic, and understanding. Instead of jumping to criticism, we can embrace the mindset of acceptance and support where mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn from and grow, rather than flaws to be condemned. Children feel safe expressing themselves without fear of judgment where there is open communication. We can validate their feelings, thoughts, and experiences which will reinforce a sense of belonging and being worthy.

Cultivating Positive Parenting Practices

If we want to raise children who are resilient and mentally well, using positive parenting practices such as modelling kindness, leading by example, exhibiting patience, and being self-compassionate are all important interactions. We need to role model through active listening and empathy because when we tune into our child’s emotional needs we can offer guidance with sensitivity and encouragement. It’s important to delight in our child as this creates a sense of being loved unconditionally. Our children, from now until adulthood, will know that they can make mistakes and we will be here to help them figure it out.

Healing Through Connection and Understanding

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Mistakes are inevitable and we all make them along the way in our parenting journeys. (Me too!) Rather than be critical of ourselves, we can embrace vulnerability and humility by acknowledging when our words or actions have caused harm - even unintentionally. Understand that even if it wasn’t your intention to upset your child, it still impacted them in a harmful way and that is what needs to be addressed. Healing begins with honest communication, and a willingness to repair any rifts in the parent-child relationship. Children do well when parents recognise and learn from their mistakes, which is also good role-modelling for your child so they too can copy and learn this important life skill. Get comfortable with apologising to your child, without excuses or blame.

Sometimes parenting can feel like a daunting task. Every word, glance, and gesture holds the power to shape our children's inner worlds. Remember to reflect on the impact of our perspectives and attitudes on our children's mental wellbeing. Foster a culture of acceptance, support, and empathy, so we can nurture resilient spirits capable of weathering life's challenges with grace and strength. As parents and caregivers, we want to be beacons of positivity and compassion in our children's lives, empowering them to flourish with confidence and resilience.

Crystal Hardstaff, The Gentle Counsellor, provides a safe haven for healing and understanding. With expertise in Trauma, Attachment Theory, Perinatal Mental Health, and Parenting Support, Crystal offers individual and couple counselling sessions, guiding you through a journey of healing and growth.

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