Today is world mental health day, a day to raise awareness about all things mental health. A time to reach out to others, share stories and, above all, a time to achieve and offer understanding.
Mental health is often seen as an issue that really only kicks in when we hit our teens. When we have our young babies in our arms it is so hard to imagine them as angst ridden young people because it feels such a long way off.
We should, of course, always enjoy the moment of time we are in, because time passes so quickly and our children grow up so fast. However, it’s my strong belief that we should keep in mind that we want to build strong foundations in their development. This means as they enter their teens they have already developed some coping strategies for dealing with their emotions.
Many of us find ‘opening up’ about our emotions difficult, especially the more negative emotions, so teaching or modelling to our children how to process and cope with these emotions can be easier said than done.
I talk an awful lot about modelling. Modelling positive ways of handling our own emotions is one of the greatest teaching tools we have; showing them how we want them to be by being it ourselves.
Andy Cope, a Derby based Emotional Intelligence expert, says ‘The general rule of parenting is that your children won’t do what you say but they will do what you do’.
They learn by watching us. If we want our children to be able to talk to us about how they feel as they enter puberty then it’s something that needs to feel natural to them already. They need to understand that emotions and feelings can change quickly creating hurdles you just couldn’t envisage being there previously.
The teenage years are a challenge for parents as well as for children. Their behaviour can be volatile and unpredictable. They can challenge in ways it is hard to predict. Try not to fall into the trap of thinking that it just won’t happen to you. That your teen will never lie, will never ‘close up’. I hear it often, hey, I said it myself, “My child can talk to me about anything, we’re so close. We are so open with each other” That may all be very true, it certainly was for me but don’t let that blind you to the facts and don’t let yourself believe for a minute that it’s something you did wrong as a parent; it’s development, it’s the 21st century, heck, it’s life.
Regardless of how close you are and how much you share with your teens they will still have things and feelings they just won’t want to share with you. As they evolve as people and they make new relationships that expose them, mould them and help them to develop their own identity you may be pushed back for a while. They need their own privacy to be able to forge their own place in the world.
‘So, why do teenagers lie? Interestingly, teen lying is part of the normal developmental process. At this stage in their lives, teenagers are looking to individuate themselves from you in order to forge a new, adult identity. Sometimes, this process manifests itself through lying, especially when teenagers perceive that their actions are out of step with their parents’ ideals and morals ‘ Mercedes Samudio
I think the most dangerous thing to do is assume that you know everything that is going on in your teens lives. You quite simply may not and bearing that in mind is so important in being able to protect them and keep them safe.
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t trust your children, but please know that lying is an actual stage of development, it doesn’t always mean they can’t be trusted (I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms) but being aware that they may be lying to you alerts that extra sensor into action, you never know when you may need that sensor to tell you that further intervention or discussion is needed.
Mental health problems continue to rise in our young people and we know how important emotional literacy and communication skills are in helping to protect children and their mental health. Technology and social media make the world better in a lot of ways but the way that it has changed how children and teens communicate needs addressing. The world around us has evolved but how we develop remains the same.
Communication is a huge part of protecting our mental health so learning how to model real communication skills to our children from birth is so important. Don’t be the parent that thinks they know it all, you can’t, we don’t. But by sharing experiences, learning how to support these stages of development and understanding the importance of them we can endeavour to improve both yours and your child’s life, relationships and mental health.
Happy World Mental Health Day
Jennifer Wyman is founder of Bridge the Gap and an emotional education consultant and trainer. A qualified early years practitioner and mum of two with over 21 years experience within the early years sector.