Early childhood is a good time to develop communication skills that can help with collaboration and even mental health. Unfortunately, these skills are often elusive, even for adults. You hear the buzzwords all the time: mindfulness, active listening, and design thinking. Do you know what they actually mean?
Exploring the intersection of mental health and communication in children
Children have very limited access to external resources. The way that they process their feelings and experiences is largely dependent on what type of support they receive from their family members. This means that if you aren’t able to foster an environment of communication within your household, they may not have a healthy outlet.
Not only will this limit their ability to receive emotional relief in times of stress but it may also stunt their own communication abilities.
To help your children thrive mentally, emotionally, and academically, you need to make sure they feel comfortable confiding in you. Good mental health strategies can also help clarify communication. Below, we highlight a few skills that can be effective assets in any household.
Mindfulness is a mental health and wellness strategy that requires participants to take careful stock of their emotions. It is often rooted in more tangible practices like meditation or yoga. Really, it’s just about living in the moment.
You can encourage mindfulness in your house by engaging daily with observational prompts. For example, discuss your surroundings with your kids. Call attention to sensory details. The color of a flower. The shape of a leave. The smell of a certain area.
These moments may feel minor, but they help build self-awareness.
Teach them active listening
Active listening is the process of listening carefully to what other people are saying. The point of active listening is not just to communicate but to develop a sense of mutual understanding between you and the person you are speaking with.
It takes more effort and energy than many people are used to dedicating to their communication. To listen actively:
- Look directly at the person you are speaking with.
- Pay attention to visual cues including facial expressions and body language.
- Do not comment until the other person is completely finished speaking.
- Do not bring your personal agenda into the conversation.
- Ask questions that expand your understanding and prove to the other person that you are engaging actively with what they are saying.
While it may take you a while to get good at active listening, it is a skill you can begin using right away to connect on a deeper level with your child. Not only will you learn more about their experiences, but you may also encourage future disclosures by establishing an honest, open environment with your child.
The design thinking approach to mental health
Design thinking is a problem-solving and efficiency technique often used in business. The method is designed to drive innovation and foster an attitude of collaboration and empathy by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
In the case of business, those shoes will usually belong to the customer. In this case, it will be the child struggling with their mental health.
To take a design thinking approach to mental health, you must put the person requiring assistance at the heart of your process with the ultimate goal of aligning all of your actions directly with their needs and experiences.
Design thinking is also collaborative. This means working closely with educators, mental health professionals, and family members to work as a unified front in the child’s life. The inclusivity of a design thinking approach breaks down what business people call “communication silos”.
Let’s put this concept in more practical terms. Let’s say you’ve noticed your child struggling at home. You know how they behave when they are with you. You don’t know how they act at school, with friends, or when they visit your mom.
Each aspect of their life is a “silo”, of sorts. Together, all of the people in your child’s life can paint a clear picture of their experiences. When united, they can collaborate in a way that synchronises effectively to help ensure better outcomes overall.
You don’t have to apply a perfect design thinking mentality when working towards improving your child’s mental health. You should, however, recognize that effective communication and collaboration are assets when working with a child.
When is counselling necessary?
If your child is struggling with their mental health, counseling services may be a necessary next step. While many parents see this as an extreme final measure, it’s actually very mainstream. Counseling services do not necessarily indicate that your child has a major issue, any more than visiting your doctor indicates that you are terminally ill.
Once your child discloses mental or emotional anguish that cannot be directly correlated with an external factor – for example, a bully, an academic challenge, etc. – it is probably in your best interest to connect them with a mental health professional.
Generalised anxiety, depression, or even stress can have a lasting impact on your child’s mental and emotional well-being. Getting professional support early can help connect them with coping mechanisms that will enable them to thrive.
Nothing about helping a child work through their mental health struggles is easy. As a parent, your natural inclination will be to feel overwhelmed by a problem that can’t be seen or touched. Push through the discomfort and know that you aren’t alone.
Nearly 22% of children self-report struggling with their mental health. As the recognised definition of mental health disorders continues to expand, more and more people are recognising excessive stress as a legitimate health concern, and that number will likely only grow.
The best thing you can do for your child is to show them unconditional support. Teach them how to recognise and communicate their feelings, and connect them with professionals who are qualified to help. Things will get better.
Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.