Encouraging psychological wellness in children
6/26/2023 by Hannah Mulholland, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W.
It's inevitable that our children will face disappointment, rejection and challenges. These situations and feelings will be opportunities for growth, especially if we can help our children develop resiliency. Building resilience in children means increasing their ability to respond positively and adapt when faced with adversity, tragedy, challenges or stressors.
When we try to solve our children's problems, we deprive them of opportunities for independence and slow their development of self-efficacy. It sends the message that we don't think they can handle the problem. However, if we support our children and push them to try new things, be uncomfortable and meet new people, they may just learn how much they are truly capable of. Through our good intentions to prevent pain for our children, we may actually be preventing their growth.
Children and adolescents often have intense or confusing emotions. They don't always know how to express themselves. Parents may be left wondering if they should be concerned. There are several signs to watch for in children and adolescents that may indicate they are struggling and need additional support. These include the following changes in behavior:
- Unusually and excessively sad, irritable or upset.
- Sudden changes to sleep or appetite.
- Persistent low energy.
- Loss of focus and concentration.
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
- Excessive and disproportionate worry or fear.
- Difficulties separating from caregivers.
If you are concerned for your child's psychological wellness or have noticed these symptoms for more than a few days, please talk to your child's primary care clinician.
Strategies for building resiliency and psychological wellness in children and adolescents include:
- Helping children build a social support network of people — young and old — who are supportive, caring and competent.
- Empowering children to make their own choices and giving them appropriate responsibilities for their developmental age.
- Setting an example for the behaviors you want your children to demonstrate.
- Promoting realistic goal setting based on your child's own interests and aspirations.
- Modeling and encouraging how to manage mistakes.
- Encouraging expression of all emotions and validating those emotions without fixing the problem.
- Praising effort, not performance.
- Promoting exercise, good sleep and a balanced diet.
- Making failure a part of trying and succeeding.
- Encouraging facing fears and trying new things.
Hannah Mulholland, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W., is a clinical social worker serving children and adolescents in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Integrated Behavioral Medicine.