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How to Protect Your Child’s Mental Health

mental health
A mother wraps her arms around her daughter.

Psychologist shares actionable insights for parents to promote mental health 

Anxiety and depression in adolescence is more pervasive than ever, leaving caregivers questioning what they can do to keep kids mentally healthy in a world saturated with toxic messages.

Rebecca Kamody PhD, clinical psychologist, Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, discusses boosting your child’s resiliency.

Reducing teen anxiety & depression starts in childhood

We are in a position of strength when we take a preventative approach to depression and anxiety.

“Resilience and self-esteem can be bolstered throughout our lives, starting in toddlerhood,” said Dr. Kamody. “When we support, not remove challenges from our children, they can build that muscle to handle setbacks.”

Prioritize parental mental health 

One of the most powerful things parents can do is model healthy coping strategies. “Seeing something is more influential for kids versus being told what to do,” said Dr. Kamody.

Lean on other parents for connection and support, engage in positive self-talk, and practice emotion regulation. 

An example of the latter involves walking a child through a situation where you handle disappointment or frustration so they have a blueprint for how to do it themselves.

  • Label your feelings 
  • Discuss how you are working through the situation 
  • Model for the child they can have ‘big feelings,’ and things can still be okay

By being a guide, caregivers strengthen their own emotional management skills and slow down the stress reaction.

Make home the ultimate safe space 

Anchoring a child with a home that feels safe and allows emotional expression encourages confidence.  “Reinforcing positive behaviors is much more effective than punishment,” said Dr. Kamody.

Keep the lines of communication open through praise and support:

  • Let your child know what you love about them
  • Sit with them through difficult moments 
  • Listen to your child with curiosity and understanding rather than judgment 

Use tools when the stress is too much 

In a moment of heightened emotions having some quick go-to tools can help deescalate a tense situation.

“These coping mechanisms won’t solve the problem, but they can help our children ride the emotional wave and tolerate distress until they are ready to identify the emotion and problem solve,” said Dr. Kamody.

Examples include:

  • Holding an ice cube
  • Splashing water on your face
  • Dancing to a favorite song
  • Pacing breaths

Extra-curricular activities are linked to satisfaction and optimism 

When we hyper focus on one area of our lives and that specific area doesn’t go well, it can feel overwhelming. By nurturing various aspects of ourselves we aren’t putting all of our “self-esteem” eggs in one basket.

“Facilitating children’s exploration into what is interesting for them, is one way to widen their world view,” said Dr. Kamody. 

Additionally, making friends outside of school through these activities can provide perspective in social situations. 

Behavioral health is multifactorial 

“Both genetic and environmental factors impact mental health,” said Dr. Kamody. “Some people are less prone to depression, while other people are genetically predisposed to depression. There is a large opportunity to impact how anyone may respond to hard times; however, for people with a biological predisposition, additional support may be needed regardless of their circumstance. This is not a lack of resilience, but rather, a medical condition to be treated just like any other.”

By enhancing what we know to be protective factors like fostering connections with our children, nurturing their interests and building their ability to handle setbacks, we wire them for resilience.