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Promoting Positive Mental Health

Promoting positive mental health in children: Overview

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Your mental health can be good, moderate, or poor, just like your physical health. It affects the way you think, feel, and act. As a parent or caregiver, you play an important role in supporting your child’s mental health. You can promote good mental health by the things you do, say, and the environment you create at home.

​​​​Focus on strengths

Look at things that your child does well. For example, when your child brings home a test, talk first about what they did well instead of focusing on mistakes. Then ask them what they think they could do to do better next time. Have suggestions ready if they ask you.

Ask questions about feelings

It’s OK for your child to feel how they feel (for example: mad, sad, worried, embarrassed). Emotions or feelings only tell you how your child feels. The feelings can be mild, moderate, or strong. They aren’t right or wrong, or good or bad. 

Your child can have more than one emotion about something. They also may not feel the same as someone else about a situation. Feelings come and go, and they can change over time. Your child can’t control how they feel, but they can control how they act when they have strong feelings. To help your child name and calm their feelings, ask questions about what they’re feeling.

Listen and show emphathy

When your child tells you what they are feeling, try to put yourself in their place. This is called empathy. Accept what they’re feeling and show empathy with the tone of your voice and the expressions on your face.

More ideas to help you

  • Stop what you’re doing and look at your child when you talk to them.
  • Take a few slow and deep breaths (in and out) if you’re feeling upset. This will help you think about how to respond instead of just reacting.
  • Check your body language. Focus on your child, make direct eye contact (if appropriate), and listen to what they’re saying.
  • Invite your child to tell you their feelings. Let them know that it’s OK to talk about feelings. "Tell me more. I want to hear how you’re feeling."
  • Identify your child’s feelings. Trying to connect with your child’s feelings will help them understand that you accept them no matter what they’re feeling. "Sounds like you’re feeling___." Or "Are you feeling___?" It’s OK if you get it wrong, they’ll correct you.
  • Validate your child’s feelings. Let them know that what they’re feeling is reasonable in this situation. "You feel how you feel. If this happened to me, I’d probably feel the same way." Or "I understand how you’re feeling. I’ve felt that before too, it hurts to feel that way, doesn’t it?"
  • Set limits on behaviours that your child may show because of their feelings. For example, "I can see that you’re feeling angry. Your brother wrecked your LEGO​ and you worked hard on it. I get it. It’s OK to feel how you feel, it’s not OK to hit."
  • Let your child know what they can do about their strong feelings. For example, "You can talk about how you feel.", "You can scream into a pillow.", or "You can write out your feelings." If they don’t like your suggestion, give them time to figure out what they want to do that’s safe and responsible. For example, they may want to take some breaths, get a hug, or spend some time alone.
  • Avoid trying to reason or problem solve when your child’s having an emotional reaction.​ This will only make the situation worse. Instead, listen and validate how they feel. You may not agree with how they feel and that’s OK. However, when you let them know that you hear them, and that it’s OK to have these feelings, your child will be able to calm themselves faster. You can talk about what happened later when the situation has calmed down.
  • Don’t judge or make negative comments about your child’s emotions. For example, "Stop crying. You’re acting like a baby!", or "You shouldn’t feel that way!" These types of comments will make your child feel like their feelings don’t matter. They won’t learn how to express their feelings or the skills to deal with their feelings in a responsible and safe way.

Current as of: March 26, 2021

Author: Mental Health Screening & Early Identification, Alberta Health Services