It is more necessary than ever to assist our children in navigating the pressures and strains of everyday life. Figures published by NHS Digital in November last year indicate an alarming increase in young people’s mental health issues, which my experience as a GP confirms.
In England, one in every eight children aged five to 19 has a diagnosable mental health problem, and the incidence of emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression has increased by 48 percent since 2004. According to Emma Saddleton, helpline manager at the charity YoungMinds, “the stresses that young people face range from school stress, bullying, and worries about work and housing opportunities, to concerns about body image.”
Although we may not be able to eliminate all of these obstacles, we can teach young people how to deal with stress and hardship. Saddleton explains, “It’s what’s known as resilience.” “The desire to rise above adversity and be positively affected by it.” Resilience can be taught, modelled, and nurtured at any age because our brains adapt to the knowledge around us. “By doing so, and by fostering engagement and strong support networks, we can help young people understand when they are down and what they can do to feel better,” she says.
It’s something that’s high on my agenda as a parent – I have an eight-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter – and I’ve discovered some useful techniques. They also don’t necessitate a complete overhaul of your parenting style, but just a few minor adjustments that will help your children excel.
Have one-on-one time with each child, without distractions
Relationships build resilience, and children need nurturing. It’s not a mystical “inner power” that gets kids through difficult times; rather, it’s the consistent presence of one supportive relationship, whether it’s a parent, teacher, sibling, family friend, or healthcare provider.
My main argument is that consistency, not quantity, is what matters. A ten-minute period of completely concentrated attention is preferable to an hour of distracted attention. You’re teaching them that it’s OK to be distracted at the dinner table if you’re on your phone. And they aren’t relevant enough to warrant your undivided attention.
One-on-one time does not have to be squeezed into an already jam-packed calendar. Make bathtime, car rides, dinners, and line waiting worthwhile. Chat, listen, share your thoughts, and inspire them to do the same. Once these one-on-ones become routine, your children will know they have a safe place to share their feelings.
Give sleep a chance
I see a lot of kids who have trouble sleeping, wake up exhausted, and have dark circles under their eyes. Stress is exacerbated by a lack of good-quality sleep, which has a detrimental impact on memory, attention, cognitive performance, and decision-making.
Limiting screen time before bed is one of the quickest ways to boost sleep – for both of us. Digital devices emit a form of blue light that suppresses the development of melatonin, a hormone that tells the body it’s time to sleep. Furthermore, staring at screens before bed keeps us mentally wired and stimulated, making it difficult to unplug.
It takes a tough parent to absolutely ban technology, and I don’t think you need to. However, I would strongly advise you to impose a household gadget ban at least an hour before bedtime. If necessary, turn off the WiFi. (If you need a compromise, TV isn’t so bad; we don’t sit as close to the screen.)
Insist that everybody uses “night-time mode” on their screens earlier in the evening, which replaces the blue light with a warmer glow. You can also purchase blue-light-cancelling glasses or download applications that do this (such as f:lux). It’s also a good idea to change your kids’ night lights to red ones, as red has the least effect on melatonin output. My kids slept in more than an hour later the next morning after I did this in their quarters.
Get out and exercise
We all know that daily exercise is beneficial, and that the majority of us, including teenagers, need to do more of it. But what if I told you that exercise, in addition to keeping your child physically healthy, also increases their resilience? It actually helps to improve the mind.
When it comes to treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety, exercise has been shown to be on par with treatment. This may be due to the body being used to moving more fluidly in and out of the stress state. When we exercise, the same hormones that are released when we are stressed (cortisol and adrenaline) are momentarily elevated. Our stress-response system learns to recover more quickly when we engage in regular physical activity.
It’s a lot of fun to do this with your kids, and I’ve found that they mimic what we do more than what we tell them to do. I’m a major believer in “movement snacking,” which involves doing brief bursts of exercise during the day. Before dinner, I’ll turn on the radio and have a dance party in the kitchen. Squats, star flips, bear crawls, and frog hops are some of the exercises my kids can do with me. They seem to like it more the sillier I get.
Teach delayed gratification
Resilience means accepting that you won’t always get what you want when you want it. In the age of Amazon Prime, Spotify, Netflix, and Uber, this is a vital idea to pass on. People who can tolerate delayed gratification live happier, healthier lives, according to psychology. Our children are lacking an important skill for their well-being if they are unable to delay gratification and reward.
Playing board games is one of the easiest ways to teach it. Impulse control, turn-taking, and mental flexibility are all required. They work out the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, emotional control, and, indeed, resilience. Being a strong loser in board games is also a good way to model resilience.
Other ways to promote delayed gratification include learning a musical instrument, listening to whole records rather than jumping from track to track online, mastering a new sport, and even watching a TV series together week by week rather than bingeing in a few sittings.
Rather than pestering your kids with questions like “How was school?” and “What did you do today?” teach them how to reframe their day.
The game below was taught to me by a friend who played it with his daughter over dinner. Three questions must be answered by everyone:
1) How did anyone make you happy today?
2) Can you tell me about a time when you did something to make someone else happy?
3) What did you discover today?
This easy exercise is one of my favorites because it encourages us to look for the best in any situation. It instills appreciation, promotes optimism, and honors compassion. It doesn’t matter what happened at work or school, or how depressed either of us was when we sat down at the table; once we’ve played this game, our whole mood seems to rise. I discover things about my children that they will possibly never tell me otherwise. Give it a shot. It could end up being the highlight of your day.