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Children's Mental Health Activities: 3 types that will help improve wellbeing


A brother and sister sitting together and smiling
How to improve children's mental health

Here are the links to the subheadings in this article so you can jump ahead if you want to:



How Has Children's Mental Health Changed?

One of the most searched terms on Google in relation to children's mental health is: 'Is children's mental health getting worse?'


It is easy to assume that it is, what with the increase in technology and comparisons made on social media as well as much more immediate access to bad news from all over the world. However there is now a greater emphasis and acceptance in society around working on better mental health that wasn't present in previous decades. This blog article will show you three categories of children's mental health activities designed to improve their mental health with ideas within each category.

How to Explain Mental Health to Children

As a primary school teacher, I like to teach my classes (and my own children at home) that mental health is just like physical health: it is on a sliding scale. It can last different amounts of time and can range in severity, just like having a cold versus breaking a leg, for example. Sometimes people can feel down for a couple of days, it may be linked to an event or they may not know why and other times people can feel like they can't cope for much longer periods of time.


Why Is Children's Mental Health Important?

Mental health is important because it affects every aspect of ours and our children's lives: physical health can be affected by it, our relationships with others, how safe we are and how well we can learn at school.


Back in 1943, an American psychologist named Maslow listed human needs in a pyramid of importance with the most fundamental at the bottom. You can see how mental health is necessary to achieve your potential.



Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow's hierarchy of needs


Children's Mental Health Activities

So what can we, as parents, do to make sure our children feel the best that they can? I've narrowed down mountains of information into three of the main categories below. I have included practical children's mental health activities within each category.


Talking About It

Sounds so simple, right? But how do you get your children to talk to you when they mostly answer, 'Good,' when you ask them how their day was or, 'I can't remember,' when you ask them what they did today. Well, I have had a couple of ideas that worked in our house but first, it is important to say that children might not have the words to describe to you how they are feeling so first you need to give them the tools (i.e. the vocabulary) to be able to do that.


The five characters from the Disney film, Inside Out
Inside Out is a great film for teaching children about mental health

The right vocabulary

If you haven't already, I urge you to watch the Disney film, Inside Out. This breaks down emotions into five main characters: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Most other emotions can be put into one of these categories, e.g. excitement is a type of joy, frustration is a type of anger, etc. It is an excellent starting off point before moving onto more complex emotions and the idea that we often feel more than one emotion at once.


A circle of words describing emotions in categories
If you want to teach more complex emotions, then an emotions wheel may help.

A couple of games that may help

Two of the ideas that have yielded the most success for me at home have been Quiz Time at dinner and a TV or radio interview.


Quiz Time is where we take it in turns to ask a question that each person has to answer. At first, Finley would answer with one word and would always use his question to ask us what we had for lunch however he now asks all sorts of questions like, 'What did you do today that you thought was too difficult at first?' We have had to ask him all sorts of questions like this to give him ideas but it was worth it as we have great discussions at dinner time now. He also asks us follow up questions when we answer which, believe me, did not happen right away!


Another game I have used is pretending to interview him for TV or radio. We often do this when we are walking to school or driving somewhere. I interviewed him at the end of July about how he was feeling about moving to a new class. He actually asks me to interview him now!


Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

This can feel overwhelming but I don't want you to feel that way. The main things to concentrate on are sleep, food and exercise.


Sleep has never been a priority for our two, much as we have tried. However we do have a good routine going at bedtime: dinner, bath, book, bed. They may or may not sleep well after that but we stick to that routine as much as possible and we talk about how important it is for our bodies to rest so that they value relaxing without feeling 'lazy'.


Food is also not a priority for Finley (unless it is chocolate!) so we struggle on this front too. We have had endless discussions about this together as parents and, what we have decided to do, is to continue to feed Finley the dinners he does like but also present him with lots of new meals that we will be having. He only has to try it. If we do this long enough, I am sure that he will expand his culinary horizons! Since the summer holidays he has added chicken wings and hash browns to his list!


And exercise just has to be as simple as getting outside at some point during the week and maybe walking somewhere or riding a bike. Even just half an hour in the garden is proven to improve mental health due to the Vitamin D you get from the sun (provided that there is some in England!)


Boy sitting on a tree trunk in the woods
Getting outside can help


Mindfulness: What is it and How to Use it?

Lastly, mindfulness is, quite simply put, living in the moment. Here are a few ideas to get started.


Noticing what is around you

Encourage children to use their senses to notice what is around them. They might not want to if you just flat out ask them so you could start by noticing things yourself and telling them, for example, "Can you hear all those birds singing? I wonder what else we could hear."


Meditating

It sounds intense but it can be just as simple as some breathing exercises. Have you seen the one where they use their hand to help them? The child traces their hand with their finger while breathing in and out.


Deep breathing exercise for kids where you trace your hand with a finger while breathing in and out
A breathing exercise using your hand

You could also try Cosmic Kids Yoga on Youtube. There are loads of different themes, like Harry Potter, different Disney films and Minecraft.


Colouring in

There are tons of mindfulness colouring sheets online as well: just search for 'mindfulness colouring sheets' and you will finds lots of images with patterns to be filled in. There are lots of colouring books available to buy (for kids and adults!) if you wanted to do that.


A mindfulness colouring black and white illustration of an elephant with patterns
Mindfulness colouring sheets can be fun

You and your relationship with your child

Any efforts that you make to improve your child's mental health will have a positive impact even if you feel that you haven't noticed any difference because it shows your child that you love them. Your relationship with your child is a huge factor in their mental health and please don't forget your own mental health along the way. As busy parents, this is easy to do but happy parents produce happy children so don't feel guilty for taking some time to yourself. We sometimes feel as though we should want to be with our children 24/7 or we aren't very good parents which just isn't true. Children are dependents so they take a lot of energy to care for so you need time to switch off and recharge. You are doing a great job!

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