If anything positive came out of the pandemic, it was that Mental Health got a PR boost and people around the world began realising that the outside world has a direct effect on their inside well-being, and vice versa. It also made it very clear that when it comes to emotional health, parents and kids are in it together with the one greatly affecting the other in profound ways. So what are three ways that parents look after themselves and how do these things have a positive effect on their kid’s emotional well-being?

They encourage connections

Mentally strong parents have their own network beyond the family unit; this could take the form of a group of friends, colleagues or a like-minded community where sport and hobbies can be explored. They understand that positive mental health is linked to being a part of a wider community where they are understood and appreciated, and can rely on other people. Similarly these parents also encourage their kids to make friends at school, expand themselves in sports and extra murals, and develop bonds with family and friends. These parents understand that building healthy bonds in the outside world creates a strong environment that encourages learning and play. 

They look after their own needs, daily

Parents of mentally healthy kids understand that self-care is not a competition. One person’s needs do not necessarily negate the other’s. In fact, these parents prioritise their own mental health. Often parents feel very guilty about this, believing their kids should be first in-line for all resources. But what they forget is that old aviation adage, “put your own oxygen mask on before assisting fellow passengers.” In other words, unless you invest in your own well-being, you will not have capacity to support the others around you. Children are not only physically demanding, but emotionally demanding too. So when parents find the support they need external to the family and find ways to decompress, debrief and muscle-up, they are in a far stronger position to carry and process whatever their children bring their way. 

They understand feelings

It is so important to teach kids about their feelings just like we teach them colours, numbers, and letters. Start by giving them words to help them understand how they feel in their bodies and minds. For example, “Your red face and cross eyes make it look like you’re angry. Are you mad at me?” Then you can talk about how to deal with those feelings in the best way. Remember that there is no good or bad feeling. Our job is to acknowledge how they feel and then talk about the best way to help them. 

But here’s the kicker:  there is no way you can help your child understand their feelings, unless you have developed an emotional vocab in relation to your own inner world. Parents who have talked things out and come to understand themselves in a deeper way, are far better equipped to not only describe, but also metabolise their kids’ big feelings. They are also more able to manage this task which can often feel completely overwhelming. When you as a parent have survived and made sense of your scariest feelings, managing your kid’s feelings will be a piece of cake. 

The bottom line

Mentally healthy kids cannot exist in a vacuum. The first port of call is that parents begin with self-care, investing in their structures beyond the family unit and understanding their inner worlds deeply. When parents have a healthy relationship with themselves, and invest in this on a daily basis, there is an automatic ripple effect into the rest of the family dynamic. Kids will be liberated from worrying about mom and dad, big feelings can be metabolised  across the board and the world becomes a wonderful place to explore and play. It’s amazing to think that caring about yourself in an authentic way, actually benefits all the people around you.  

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