• An important duty you have as a parent is teaching your kids about self-care as a key to sustainable mental wellness.
  • Lead by example and instill good habits in your children: you can start by modeling the importance of proper nutrition as well as physical exercise (which can double as play).
  • Additionally, you should teach them about emotional intelligence and show them how they can process as well as express how they’re feeling.
  • Another important lesson is utilization of personal expression: help your kids find outlets for expressing themselves and exploring their creativity.
  • Finally, introduce them to the benefits of spending time outdoors; get them away from their devices and give them the opportunity to connect with nature.

More than 17 million kids in the United States struggle with mental illness, and studies show that half of all long-term mental disorders start by age 14. As a parent, you provide support for your child every single day. You’re there from the very start of their lives to teach them how to navigate life’s challenges. An important aspect in teaching them the “ropes” of life is not only to show them how to take care of their physical health, but to lay the foundations to promote long-lasting mental health and wellness as well.

The key to sustainable mental wellness is in proper self-care. Teaching your child self-care doesn’t have to be an overt lesson. Often, the best way to build good habits in your children is to lead by example. Here are five aspects of proper self-care to help promote sustainable mental health and wellness not only for your child, but for you as a parent as well:

1) Nutrition: Eating a Balanced Diet

New research within the last five years suggests that there’s truth in the old saying—we are what we eat—and diet plays an important role in mental wellness. A balanced diet of “real” food contains high-quality nutrients that become the necessary protein building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue and neurotransmitters that manage the information signals that our brain sends throughout our body.

In contrast, a diet high in saturated fats, processed foods and refined sugars has a negative effect on brain protein development. Make it a point to assess what you feed yourself and your child, and develop a weekly plan that covers all the necessary nutrients that our brains need.

2) Emotions: Understanding What They’re Feeling and Why

Emotional intelligence, referred to commonly as EI or EQ, is just as important as our “intelligence quotient” or IQ. Giving your child the tools to recognize what they’re feeling and the “why” behind any emotion, from happy to sad, increases your child’s ability to manage and regulate their emotions in the future. Make sure that they know that it’s safe to ask you for support, and make it a point to talk about what your children are feeling.

Emotional intelligence can help to empower your children to recognize for themselves when they’re struggling with mental health and come to you so that together you can seek out mental health resources to help you better understand what you’re dealing with and seek proper treatment and care.

3) Physical Activity: It’s Important AND It Can Be Fun

Regular exercise has a positive effect on mood and behavior and can also help to manage depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. The word “exercise” can conjure up a mental picture of treadmills, ellipticals, and weight machines. While a fitness routine is great for adults, it’s usually not engaging for children long-term. More often, children are more engaged with exercise when it comes in the form of team sports, dance lessons, playing outside with friends, or riding a bike, skateboard or scooter. Encourage your child to explore ways to exercise that’s fun for them so that it’s not necessarily “exercise,” but play-time instead.

4) Personal Expression: Utilizing Creative Outlets

Self-expression is one of the cornerstones of self-care. Finding creative outlets for your child to express themselves helps to boost their motivation, increase their ability to concentrate, and produce a stronger sense of self-worth.

Encourage your child to explore their creative side. Dancing, like suggested earlier, can be a great creative avenue that combines both expression and exercise. Other activities like writing, drawing, painting, music or even giving your child the ability to decide what they wear (within reason) are also great forms of positive self-expression.

5) Spending Time Outdoors: Connecting with Nature and Others

Research shows that spending time outdoors has a positive effect on mental health and happiness by providing stress relief, increased social interaction, and opportunity for physical activity. Take the time to separate your kids from their device or limit their screen time so that they can connect with nature. You could take a walk together, encourage them to play in the backyard or take a family trip to your favorite park.

Ultimately, the same foundations of self-care to encourage in children are applicable to parents and adults as well. Everyone struggles with keeping all the bases covered and making sure they’re taking care of themselves in the best way possible. Keeping these aspects of self-care in mind can help you sustain and manage your mental health and wellness, while also giving you the tools to empower the ones you love to do the same.

*Gretchen Cohen is a staff writer and performs outreach for Jumo Health.*

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