Teaching Kids To Keep Themselves Mentally Healthy

You are likely doing an excellent job teaching your kids to keep themselves physically healthy. You’ve taught them to wash their hands before eating, to brush their teeth and to take a bath or shower. Maintaining a healthy body takes daily effort.

Maintaining a healthy mind also takes daily effort. How are you teaching your kids to keep themselves mentally healthy?

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is not about being happy all the time. In fact believing your kids should always be happy is a recipe for mental health problems! Your kids need skills for responding to a wide range of emotions every day including feelings of frustration, anger, sadness and loneliness.

Mental health encompasses more than being able to handle your emotions. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” Let’s look at how this definition applies to your children.

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Living Our Values Everyday

There are times in our lives when we are shaken to our core. The very foundation of our lives seems to be at risk. It may be triggered by things like political upheaval, health issues or relationship problems.

These situations produce strong emotions. You may feel furious, perplexed, distraught, alarmed or apprehensive. When something you deeply care about is at risk, you experience stress.

When you positively embrace stress, it propels you to take action in alignment with your values. You feel like you must act. You can no longer sit back and watch what is happening.

Considering Your Highest Values

What are your deepest held values? If you had to choose your five most important moral values, what would they be?

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Increasing Motivation Using Provocative Questions

Do you wish you could increase your children’s motivation to do homework, get ready for school on time or keep their room clean? Will the promise of a reward for practicing the piano help your child practice more? Or will the threat of punishment be more effective?

When you try to motivate your children to work harder, you often end up feeling frustrated by the results.

Understanding Internal Motivation

New research is teasing out some of the key elements around motivation. According to Daniel Pink's book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, trying to motivate children using external rewards and punishment is a mistake. The secret for motivating children to high performance lies in encouraging their own internal drive.

Pink describes three elements of true motivation:

  • Autonomy: the need to direct your own life
  • Mastery: the desire to make progress in your work
  • Purpose: the ability to positively impact yourself and the world

For example, if you want your child to practice the piano more, asking these questions might help.

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Pursing a Technology Career - Perfect for Girls!

I completed a degree from the University of Minnesota in Computer Science and Psychology in 1984. There were few women in my computer science classes - great opportunity to meet guys! At the time I worked in the pharmacy at Snyder Drugs. One of the pharmacists encouraged me to pursue a degree in math or computer science along with my psychology degree. I took her advice and double majored in four years.

What wonderful advice! I ended up in a job that paid well and provided for my family. It's now over 30 years later and I still find technology fascinating. Eventually I combined my interests along with a Masters in Education and founded Priceless Parenting. I used my tech background to create online parenting classes.

Encourage girls you know to go into technology. It's a great way get an awesome career that pays well! Computing Technology Industry Association has created this video exploring girls views about technology.

Pulling Together as a Family with Weekly Family Meetings

When times are tough, one of the worst feelings is that you are all alone. Believing that nobody else really knows what you are going through and that you have to figure it out yourself weighs heavily.

Kids need help getting through challenging times and so do parents! It can be easy to miss that one of your family members is struggling.

One of the best things you can do to prevent these feelings of isolation is to have regular, planned opportunities to communicate. Family meetings are a way to make this happen.

Holding Family Meetings

Weekly family meetings provide a structure for regularly communicating about important issues. Pick a day of the week that works best for your family. It might be Sunday evenings so you can get on the same page for the upcoming week. Perhaps a Thursday or Friday night works better. The important thing is to pick a day and time that your family can commit to setting aside every week.

These meetings should be short – 30 minutes works well. This means there will only be time for a few agenda items and the rest will have to wait until the following week.

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Positively Using Stress to Increase Concentration and Performance

Does parenting ever leave you feeling stressed? When you care about how something will turn out, there is a certain amount of stress involved. One of the things you care most about is your children.

Whether it’s getting your kids to school on time, coordinating schedules or dealing with misbehavior, raising kids involves stress. Your kids also have stress in their lives as they respond to expectations from you, their teachers and their friends.

How you respond to stress can either leave you feeling on top of your game or spinning out-of-control. Harnessing the benefits of stress while avoiding the pitfalls is key to using stress to your advantage.

Being Overwhelmed By Stress

When your physical safety is at risk, you have a fight-or-flight response. The thinking part of your brain is bypassed so that you can take immediate action. This is critical if you are about to be hit by a car and need to jump out of the way.

It is this type of stress response that appears in emergencies. There are many stories of people being able to do extraordinary things in dire situations like lift a car off a child. They perform heroic acts in moments of stress without even thinking about it.
Two guys handling stress

When you feel overwhelmed by a stressful situation, it can also trigger the fight-or-flight response. Have you ever found yourself feeling overwhelmed and screaming at your kids? When you respond to your kids by yelling, hitting or threatening, you are experiencing a fight response.

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Following Your Parenting Intuition

Do you ever feel confused and torn when trying to figure out what is best for your kids? It might be around choosing a school, a sports team, a summer camp or someone to watch them. Do you find yourself thinking and re-thinking the pros and cons of each choice only to feel even more uncertain?

Struggling with conflicting feelings is a sign to pause and reflect before acting. Most often this struggle happens when you are trying to convince yourself of an answer or solution that is somehow not right.

Rationalizing Your Decisions

You are probably an expert at logically explaining your decisions. This is what you learned in school - don't just write down an answer, you need to be able to explain your answer. Intuition is about knowing the right answer in your gut even though you can't easily explain it.
Parents come to me when they are struggling because something doesn't feel right and they're not sure which direction to go. I listen carefully, ask questions and then recap what I heard. They are often surprised with my conclusions even though I've simply pulled together what they have told me.

For example, Steve called to talk about his concerns about his son's relationship with his stepfather. He described the awkwardness when picking his son up from his mother's house, a previous incident involving Child Protective Services, his son's inappropriate touching behavior and many other details.

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Reducing Rules By Providing Reasons

Have you ever told your kids not to touch something only to have them immediately try touching it? Being told not to do something naturally makes kids curious about what will happen if they do it.

If you were walking in a park on a warm summer day near a sparkling stream, would you or your kids be tempted to cool off in the stream? Splashing around in some cool water on a hot day feels great!

What if there was a sign nearby saying “Stay Out Of The Creek”? Would that make you stay on the path or would you feel even more drawn to the water? Simply being told not to do something can make the forbidden even more tempting. You can probably come up with many justifications for ignoring the sign and going into the creek. Perhaps you will go a little ways downstream from the sign so as not to break the rules right in front of the sign!

Providing Two Good Reasons

A neighborhood Seattle park has a beautiful creek flowing through it. There is a bridge over the creek and a dirt area near one side of the bridge which provides easy access to the creek.

Instead of telling people to stay out of the creek, the park service put up a sign providing valuable information about the creek. The sign’s title is “Two Reasons to Stay Out of this Creek”.

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Being Treated With Respect

Is respect one of your family’s top moral values? Treating each other with respect is a fundamental quality of healthy relationships. When your children treat you with respect, they honor your worth, dignity and importance. Likewise when you treat your children with respect, you honor their worth, dignity and importance.

Both you and your kids want to feel valued and have your needs taken into consideration. When this happens, everyone feels respected.

Respectful Versus Disrespectful Behavior

What does respect look like to you? When your children are treating you with respect, what are they doing?

Here are some ways your children may be showing respect:
  • Listening to you
  • Saying please and thank you
  • Waiting a turn to talk without interrupting
  • Helping out with household tasks
  • Letting you know where they are going and when they’ll be back
  • Calling or texting if they will be home late
  • Smiling, hugging
What do your kids do that you consider disrespectful? How do you feel when your kids are being disrespectful? Disrespectful behavior tends to trigger strong emotions so it quickly catches your attention.

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Trying To Keep Your Kids Happy Can Lead To Problems

"I just want my kids to be happy! What can possibly be wrong with that?" Trying to keep your kids happy may actually have the opposite effect.

Accepting the Full Range of Emotions

When you focus on your kids being happy, your unspoken message is that feeling happy is the goal. Emotions like anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness, loneliness and fear should be avoided.

How do you communicate this to your kids? Perhaps you can relate to the dad whose daughter expressed disappointment at having to go to the store with him. Instead of simply acknowledging her disappointment, he promised to get her some candy. She was then happy to go with him.

Maybe you’ve been in a situation like Erin’s whose son loves playing video games. When she tells him it’s time to do something else, he gets angry so she often lets him play a little longer. Even though Erin feels he is spending too much time on video games, she hates dealing with his crankiness when it’s time to turn it off.

Another mom described her son’s limited food preferences. He likes pizza, pasta and hamburgers so that’s what he has for dinner every night. While she knows this isn’t the healthiest diet, it keeps him happy.

When you strive to keep your kids happy, they miss out on learning to handle their more difficult emotions. You may also be sacrificing what is healthy for them in the long term for short term happiness.

Encouraging Self-Centered Focus

Loving parents can unintentionally raise self-centered, unhappy children. How does this happen? One way it happens is when parents continually give their children the message that the children's needs, desires and happiness are superior over anyone else's. These children grow up learning to focus on themselves, not others.

Shunning Classmates Who Behave Poorly Versus Setting Stronger Boundaries

There are kids in every class who struggle more than their peers to behave appropriately. In preschool these are the kids that turn to biting, pushing and hitting to communicate. By the time they are in grade school, their inappropriate behavior often leaves them isolated by their classmates.

There are many reasons kids may lag in developing interpersonal skills. It may be due to growing up in a traumatic environment, having sensory integration issues, being anxious or some other factors.

Kicking Out The Troublemaker Or Helping The Child Grow

A cooperative preschool in Seattle had a boy who regularly hurt other kids. In his article "I Won’t Hurt You", Teacher Tom wrote about his school’s response to this boy and his family. He described “a five-year-old boy in class named ‘Jerry’ who had been diagnosed with sensory integration issues, the kind that caused him to at least once a day, often more, hurt classmates by pouncing on, hitting, or biting them. He was not ‘being mean’ and it was not done in anger, but rather as an act of pure, uncensored impulse.”

Teacher Tom overheard some boys planning to no longer play with Jerry. While this is a natural consequence, Teacher Tom felt it “would result in a kind of cruelty that would do little more than to make a young, confused child even more confused.”

Parents in this cooperative preschool help in the classroom so they saw the problems with Jerry’s behavior. At a parent meeting, some parents brought up the idea of asking Jerry’s family to leave the school. Other parents declared they would also leave if Jerry’s family was asked to leave. So instead they decided to work together to help Jerry.

How did they adjust their behavior to help Jerry improve his behavior?

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Parenting is a Sacred Responsibility

You are responsible for the nurturing your child's tender soul. You have the power to crush it or help it soar.

If you try to make your children follow the same path you followed, you will crush their souls. Instead, gather the courage to allow them to follow their own path. It's the only way they'll find true happiness and reach their greatest height.

Getting Kids To Listen To You

My kids don’t listen to me! That’s the number one parenting challenge mentioned by parents who complete a Priceless Parenting quiz.

Although different words are used to describe the problem, most say something like “Getting the kids to listen to me and do what I’ve asked the first time.” When you talk about your kids listening to you, it’s more than just being able to parrot back what you said.

Listening is an active process which involves:
  • Paying attention to what is being said
  • Observing the tone of voice and gestures
  • Thinking about what is being communicated
  • Responding

When your kids are listening to you, they understand what you are communicating. Whether they respond as you would like is another matter!

Understanding Who Controls Listening

If you try to force your kids to listen to you and obey your request, you’ve set yourself up for a power struggle. You may say to yourself “Well I’m the parent! My kids should listen to me and do what I ask the first time I ask!”

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Sugared Cereal Is Not Healthy For Kids

Did you know that  sugared cereals have more sugar per serving than frosted cakes or donuts? Yikes! Dr. Michael Greger's article, &qu...