No matter who you are or what you may be facing in your current life and life stage – parenting can be difficult. Raising children is a beautiful journey, that can also be a bumpy one. Caring for a child may create additional challenges when the caregiver is dealing with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental health concerns. Not only do parents have to worry about the health of their children, but they may also be struggling with their own health.
Although it may be challenging, living with a mental health issue does not make an individual a bad caregiver. If a parent has a mental health condition it does not mean that it will impact their child in a negative way. In this blog we discuss how your mental health can affect your children’s development and how to manage your mental health while parenting.
CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENT & EFFECTS OF MENTAL HEALTH
Children can be easily influenced by individuals in their life as well as their surrounding environments. Having a stable and safe home is essential to a child’s upbringing. Children raised in supportive environments are more likely to develop healthy habits, whereas children raised in a less nurturing environments may develop anxiety and find it difficult to cope with life’s challenges. Having a significant caregiver who is consistently present is crucial to a child’s development. Proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep are also big influences.
As adults, we understand that life throws us curve balls and that how we deal with those challenges greatly influences our mental health. Children, however, have not yet developed coping mechanisms to deal with major life events. They look up to the adults in their life for guidance and assistance. When their environment is unstable children may accumulate Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) throughout their development. These ACEs have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and an individual’s mental health. Some examples of ACEs include family turmoil, experiencing violence, and witnessing violence, substance abuse, and mental illness to name a few. The more ACEs a child is exposed to, the more their development is affected which puts them at greater risk for poor health, lower education levels, and substance use disorder. ACEs can affect individuals at all income levels and social statuses.
It is unrealistic to think that children can be protected from every negative influence in their life, however, there are ways to help them cope with traumatic events and the impacts of exposure to mental illness.
MANAGING MENTAL HEALTH AS A GUARDIAN
Mentally healthy children are more likely to have a positive quality of life and, even if they experience traumatic events or incidents, can still grow into adults who learn healthy behaviours. When a parent or guardian is dealing with a mental illness their children may be impacted, but the impact doesn’t have to be negative. Managing mental health while raising children may not be easy but, by utilizing counselling, open communication, and quality time spent with family, parents can create coping mechanisms and self-regulation practices that work for them and their children.
Speaking with a professional is one of the best ways to organize your thoughts and construct a workable plan for you and your family. Therapy provides a safe space for you to share your feelings without the risks of judgement or rejection. We know that mental illness can be passed down from parent to child, and that the risk of inheritance is increased if both parents have a mental illness or disorder. Incorporating your family into counselling can help each individual share their perspective, feelings, and needs and create healthy coping mechanisms when they are having a hard time. Strength Counselling provides relationship and family counselling so that individuals can enjoy healthier and happier connections with their loved ones.
Open communication is one of the best ways to educate your children about mental health. It is important for children to learn how to talk about mental health and to feel comfortable discussing their own feelings and concerns. This may be more challenging when it comes to younger children, but there are a number of ways in which you can effectively communicate with them as well. For example, watching an age appropriate movie together (e.g., Disney’s Inside Out) may help explain mental illness and emotional regulation. You can also encourage your child to express their feelings and concerns through art. Not only is this a way for them to communicate subconscious aspects of their process with you, but it also lets them share their feelings in an easier manner (e.g., “this red smudge means angry!”).
If your child has witnessed an incident with a family member or friend who has a mental health condition, you may use this as an opportunity to ask how they are feeling about the incident and explain what happened in an age appropriate manner that takes the responsibility for the incident off of your child. Let your child lead the conversation so that it flows organically in a direction that best allows them understanding. It is important to be upfront with your children, talk to them about mental health, and let them know what sorts of treatments exist that they may want to access. It is good practice to keep an open door policy with your children so that they feel welcome to discuss their feelings and any intense situations they encounter with you.
Whether you have a large or small family, spending time with them can help your child develop their social skills. They will be exposed to a number of people with different personalities and ways of communicating. When a child is confined to only interacting with a small number of people, they will have a smaller understanding of the complexities of family and social dynamics. If you have a small family, having a group of supportive friends can assist you and your child in feeling supported. Additionally, spending time with family can provide parents and guardians the time they need to take a mental break. It’s also worth mentioning that making time for yourself as a guardian is just as important as spending time with family and friends.
Raising a child is never easy and with the addition of a mental illness it can, at times, seem almost impossible. With the right tools and coping mechanisms to help you and your family, you can develop a healthy family dynamic that benefits and brings healing to everyone involved. If you would like to discuss mental health as a parent or guardian with our team or talk to a professional for more information, please contact us HERE.