By Heather Senior Monroe, LCSW
It’s never too early to start teaching your child “mental health hygiene.” Start when they’re young. Kids can learn tools for building resilience and well-being that reduce chances of teen depression. Here are three important ways parents can help children stay healthy and happy as they grow and mature.
Talk To Your Kids About What They’re Feeling
Whether your child is a toddler or a teen, they will benefit from learning how to express what they’re feeling. The ability to talk about our emotions is a skill that serves us in every area and stage of our lives. It’s easy for most of us to express positive emotions like joy and love, but it’s just as important to pay attention to and talk about the tough emotions—pain, fear, anxiety, anger.
If you think your child is struggling with teen depression, ask questions. Furthermore, find out what their emotions may be telling them. Be empathetic, but don’t try to fix it or brush it under the rug. Talk to them about what they’re feeling. In addition, ask why they might be feeling that way. What helps and doesn’t help when they feel that way. Remind them that all emotions are okay, and that the pain or discomfort they might be experiencing will pass. Hearing the words “It’s okay to feel sad” might be just as meaningful for your teenager as it is for your toddler.
Offer Them Tools For Moving Through Difficult Emotions
If only we all had a toolkit to reach into when life was challenging! Your child can start building one at any age. “Riding the wave” is a simple and accessible mindfulness tool for coping with strong emotions. Guide your child in bringing awareness to what they’re feeling and where it’s located in the body. Then have them breathe slowly and gently into that area and stay with the breath until the intensity of the emotion eases.
Exercise Lowers Risk of Teen Depression
Studies found mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation were successful in lowering rates of teen depression. Research on yoga’s impact on adolescents shows that regular practice increases self-esteem and mental and physical well-being. Furthermore, it strengthens coping mechanisms, reduces anxiety, and improves mood and the ability to self-regulate emotions. The deep, regular breathing done in a yoga class has a positive effect on the vagus nerve, which regulates heart rate variability, an indicator of resilience.
Another excellent way to move through tough emotions is actually moving. For little ones, just running around the yard a few times can help release frustration and anger. For teens, it might be dancing, running, or working out at the gym. To learn more about the link between exercise and mental health, read the second part of this series, “Teen Depression: Causes and Treatment.”
Watch Vivian, Alumni of Newport Academy, share how she finds peace and happiness in the midst of daily chaos:
Show them how it’s done
Teaching by example can be more powerful than words. Keeping yourself calm when you or your child is upset shows them that it’s possible to experience tough emotions without reacting in aggressive or self-harming ways. Model self-regulation, self-compassion, and conscious breathing, and your child will be far more likely to do the same.
Heather Senior Monroe, LCSW, a Senior Clinician at Newport Academy, is a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker who specializes in teenage depression, anxiety, and trauma. She has worked in the fields of teen treatment and prevention for more than 10 years.