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Key Takeaways:

  • Mentally well children are more likely to foster meaningful relationships and feel accomplished in their daily lives.
  • Nurturing mental health can improve physical conditions, preventing issues like sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease.
  • Some ways to improve mental health in children include mindfulness activities, exercise, reduced time on social media, and seeking professional help.

Mental health in children matters just as much as physical health. An emotionally stable child is a happier and more adventurous one! However, maintaining a positive mindset isn’t always easy, so practicing healthy mental health habits together can be the key to providing a safe and relaxed environment.

While there are factors influencing mental health that are out of your control, reinforcing good habits can help your child conquer setbacks and regulate their emotions.

The Importance of Mental Health for Kids

In early development, mental health determines how children respond to stress and relate to others. Better mental health habits improve mood and reduce anxiety, allowing for clearer thinking and healthier relationships [*].

Children who nurture their mental health also have higher self-esteem and confidence. They are more approachable in social situations.

Managing mental health also keeps specific health conditions at bay, including heart disease [*]. Other physical conditions that correlate with mental health in children include chronic diseases (depression, asthma, and arthritis), sleep problems, and various cancers.

8 Healthy Mental Habits for Kids

While stressors like school, peer pressure, and social media can make it challenging for children to cope, incorporating these healthy mental health habits is a good place to start.

1. Expressing emotions

Children who cannot express their emotions tend to suppress challenging feelings, allowing them to build up inside. Find every opportunity to reassure your child that they can safely express their emotions around you. For instance, you can dedicate time before bed to “debrief” with your child. Alternatively, you can host family sharing circles several a week, normalizing discussions about emotions.

Use our feelings and emotions worksheets to equip your child with suitable methods for expressing themselves and communicating their thoughts.

2. Practicing gratitude

When children have opportunities to reflect on what they are grateful for, they can develop a positive and persistent mindset in the face of adversity. Use our gratitude worksheets to encourage your child to consider who they are grateful for, what personal traits they appreciate, and the best parts of their day.

3. Getting enough sleep

According to a 2021 study, people who average less than six hours of sleep nightly are 2.5 times more likely to report mental distress [*]. Thus, having a healthy sleep schedule can make a child feel more energized and motivated throughout the day.

Sleep quality matters as much as sleep duration. A child who frequently wakes up in the middle of the night may feel cranky in school and experience memory issues. Help your child sleep better by establishing a healthy sleep routine and transforming their bedroom into a comfortable and relaxed space.

4. Reducing social media use

Children and teenagers are spending more time on social media than ever. While being chronically online provides access to a wealth of information, constant social media presence can take a toll on mental health.

Social media often negatively affects teens, as they tend to compare themselves to others, contributing to low self-worth and self-esteem. Encouraging your child to spend less time on social media may encourage them to nurture their in-person friendships and engage in more hands-on activities.

Help reduce screen time by having phone-free family nights, encouraging reading after bed, or turning off notifications in the evening.

 

5. Exercise

Research shows that exercise can do wonders for alleviating stress, lifting mood, and improving energy levels [*]. The concept of exercise also goes beyond visits to the gym or running miles on the school track.

Enjoyable movement and exercise might look like a stroll in the park, a dance class, swimming at the beach, family hikes, or Zumba with friends. Vigorous workouts don’t equate to physical health. A few minutes of movement daily can promote blood flow throughout the body, making you feel relaxed and happy.

6. Mindfulness

Some kids and teens experience stress because the world around them is too fast-paced. Finding a mindful moment to slow down can provide the reset your child needs.

When your child has a moment in their day, remind them to take a mindful break using the BREAK acronym—breathe, reflect, empower, (be) aware, and (be) knowledgeable.

7. Fostering positive relationships

People are social creatures and thrive off opportunities to relate to others. When children develop healthy friendships, they’re less lonely, have more direct access to emotional support, and enjoy meaningful experiences.

Children in today’s digital age may feel tempted to cultivate relationships online, but you can’t underestimate the healing power of in-person friendships. Encourage your child to nurse their closest relationships face-to-face by hosting occasional playdates, going on walks with each other’s families, or attending events together.

8. Seeking help when needed

While the strategies mentioned above can improve mental health in kids, there may come a time when seeking professional help is necessary. If practicing healthy habits doesn’t improve your child’s mental distress, working with a therapist can provide more robust solutions to their anxiety or depression.

Though children don’t “need” to suffer from a diagnosed mental illness to require therapy, it may be necessary for children who:

  • Have experienced traumatic events
  • Have anxiety or panic attacks
  • Are constantly angry or irritable
  • Are unable to fulfill their basic needs due to depression
  • Are engaging in substance use as a coping mechanism
  • Are falling behind in school
  • Are experiencing physical repercussions

The Bottom Line

A child’s mental health plays a significant role in their quality of life. Adding beneficial habits like practicing mindfulness, getting exercise, and expressing their emotions to their daily routine can make them more in touch with their needs and desires.

Do you want to include more healthy habits in your child’s routine? Explore our healthy habits posters to make simple improvements and encourage your child to be their best selves!

Sources:

  1. Cole MW. “The Frontoparietal Control System: A Central Role in Mental Health.” The Neuroscientist, 2014.
  2. Chaddha A, Robinson EA, Kline-Rogers E, Alexandris-Souphis T, Rubenfire M. “Mental Health and Cardiovascular Disease.” The American Journal of Medicine, 2016.
  3. Blackwelder A, Hoskins M, Huber L. “Effect of Inadequate Sleep on Frequent Mental Distress.” Preventing Chronic Disease, 2021.
  4. Lattari E, Portugal E, Moraes H, Machado S, Santos M, Deslandes C. “Acute Effects of Exercise on Mood and EEG Activity in Healthy You” Ingenta Connect, 2014.