The Smiling Mind State of Mind report found that 41% of parents reported the pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental health of their kids.
As a parent in 2021, the mental health of our kids is always top of mind. After almost two years of uncertainty and change as a result of the pandemic, kids and parents alike have been challenged in ways we never expected.
In fact 41% of parents reported that the pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental health of their kids, according to Smiling Mind’s 2021 State of Mind report. So how can we support the mental health of our kids in the aftermath of the pandemic?
Many of us see mental and physical health as two separate components of our overall wellbeing, however they are much more interconnected than one may initially perceive. The State of Mind report also revealed that awareness of the importance of maintaining good mental health is at an all-time high, with 89% of respondents considering it to be as important as physical health.
As a practising GP, I am passionate about awareness and understanding of mental health across all generations, so I have pulled together 5 top tips to help your kids stay mentally healthy (and as a mum of 2 young children these are things I implement at home day to day):
Studies have shown time and time again that regular movement and exercise is not only beneficial for our physical health but also our mental health. Regular physical activity has been proven to alleviate feelings of depression, anxiety and increase our overall mood. It is great to set your child up for success by getting them started early and making physical activity the norm. This can be anything from playing organised sport to simply going for a bike ride or walk around the neighbourhood with the family. I remind my patients that incidental dancing, jumping on the trampoline or a simple obstacle course with some balancing and jumping all count as physical activity - it doesn’t have to be fancy and every minute counts!
To get your child to start noticing how their mind feels after incorporating movement in their day ask them: How do you feel in your mind when you are active and moving your body?
When children are feeling worried or anxious one of the first signs is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. However, a good night's sleep plays an important role in our children's overall wellbeing (and for all the parents who wonder how they can support their child’s immune system during cough and cold season - sleep is a big factor!). According to the Sleep Health Foundation children aged 6 - 13 should get between 9 - 11 hours of sleep each night.
Removing devices such as tablets 30 minutes before bed, practising a guided meditation and sticking to a regular bedtime are all ways to set your child up for a good night's rest. If worries are keeping them awake at night make sure to schedule some ‘worry time’ to discuss their concerns during the day. I have to add that these are all things I suggest for my adult patients too and in periods of stress I implement these measures myself to protect my sleep quality!
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness and meditation has been proven to have a wide range of benefits to mental health for people of all ages. Some benefits of regularly practising mindfulness include increased resilience and ability to manage emotions. Mindfulness helps us to develop the ability to observe our emotions with more openness and curiosity, and less judgement. By being able to observe them more objectively, we tend to be less pushed around by them.
Try and find time once a day to practise mindfulness with your child so they can continue with this proactive approach to supporting their mental health in years to come. You could take a moment to complete a guided meditation together before bed or even just take a few moments to focus on the breath and how it feels.
4. Eat the Rainbow
There is a growing body of research showing that what children eat can affect not only their physical health but also their mental health too!
The research suggests that eating a healthy and nutritious diet can improve mental health, enhance cognitive skills like concentration and memory and improve academic performance. A great way to get your kids involved in their diet is through engaging in mindful eating.
Eating mindfully is an area of mindfulness defined as the practice of cultivating an open-minded awareness of how food preparation, eating environments and the food we choose to eat affects one's body, feelings, mind, and the environment around us. Getting children in the garden planting tomatoes, in the kitchen top and tailing beans and in the process of plating up meals are all potential ways to get them involved and familiar with fruit and vegetables (which I tell my children are great for both the body and the brain!).
Encourage your child to ask questions about their food such as: Where did this food on my plate come from? What does it taste, smell and look like?
5. Focus on the good
Our mind is the most powerful tool we have for overcoming challenges. Unfortunately, our brains have an inbuilt negativity bias which can cause us to replay negative situations. The good news is that we can retrain our kids' brains (and ours too) to focus on the good! A simple way to address this is through regularly practising gratitude. Gratitude is being thankful for the good things in our lives. It helps our brains by making us pay attention to what brings us joy.
It's great to start to get in the habit of practising gratitude as a family. A really simple way to do this is to take turns going around the dinner table asking each person to share “What went well” in their day.
As your children begin to take in the good it allows them to notice the little moments of joy that can be easy to miss. Studies have shown that incorporating a regular gratitude practice is a promising strategy for improving psychological well-being. Again, this is a tip I often suggest for my adult patients too.
For more resources to support your child through uncertainty check out our Care Packs for Families, containing digital tools created by Smiling Mind’s psychologists.
About the author:
Dr Preeya Alexander is a practising GP based in Melbourne, and holds a Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery from Adelaide University. Dr Preeya specialises in preventative health, general medicine, sexual health, mental health, women’s medicine and shares her expertise and passion on her blog, The Wholesome Doctor.
1. Jacka FN, et al. Associations between diet quality and depressed mood in adolescents: results from the Australian Healthy Neighbourhoods Study. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2010 May;44(5):435-42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20397785
2. Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: The effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(7), 568-578. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706
3. Bellisle, F. (2004). Effects of diet on behaviour and cognition in children. British Journal of Nutrition, 92(2), S227–S232
- Sleep Health Foundation https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/
- Dib, J., Comer, J., Wootten, A., Buhagiar, K. (2021). State of Mind 2021 Report. Melbourne: Smiling Mind