Edit ModuleShow Tags

What Is “Mental Health"?

How to promote good mental health in children



May is Mental Heatlh Month, so I thought a discussion of mental health would be a timely topic. One thing I have learned over my 30-plus years in the field is that “mental health” can be scary topic for parents. I am not sure why there are such negative associations with mental health; we certainly don’t react negatively to physical or dental health. Perhaps part of the problem is that it can be hard to understand what mental health is. So let’s talk a little about mental health and how we can promote it in our children.First, let’s talk about what mental health is not. It is not just the absence of problems. So much of what gets promoted as mental health is really the avoidance or prevention of problems. We have bullying prevention, substance abuse prevention and suicide prevention. Although these programs are valuable in their own right, the absence of these and other challenges is not the same as mental health.

So what is mental health? Especially for children, mental health depends on feeling safe and protected. Given that important foundation, in 1999 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defined mental health as consisting of three things: 1) productive activities, 2) fulfilling relationships and 3) the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity. So what does this mean for us in promoting the mental health of our children?

Productive activities

All of us, including our children, need to feel both competent and that we are making a meaningful contribution. Something we can do is help our children find something that they are good at and then make sure that they have plenty of opportunities to do it. It doesn’t need to be something big, and our kids don’t need to be the best; they just need to have something positive that they feel good about and that can serve as the foundation for healthy self-esteem. It is also important that this area of competence have value to other people so that our children feel like they are making a real contribution.

Fulfilling relationships

Having healthy, fun, productive relationships with adults and peers is critical to mental health. Encourage your child to be involved in clubs and activities, youth groups, scouts and the like so that they have structured time with other youth and good adult role models. 

Ability to cope with change

This is, of course, one of the key components of resilience, the focus of this column and my department’s work. This is too broad a topic to discuss in one paragraph, but I was struck by a comment I once read that “Youth can get through any difficulty if they have somewhere to walk to and someone to walk with.”

So this May, let’s think about how we can ensure that our children have opportunities to develop their own mental health through productive activities, fulfilling relationships, and effective coping. By the way, these same three goals will promote our mental health as well. 

Added note for parents who are worried about their children’s mental health: If you are concerned about a possible mental health issue or challenge with your child, please do not be embarrassed or hesitant to seek help from qualified professionals. A large number of children struggle with mental health issues and effective help is available. We shouldn’t let our fears or prejudices keep us from seeking the help that our children need. If you are concerned about your child, a good place to start is by talking to the professionals at your child’s school.

Paul LeBuffe is the director of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children in Villanova, PA, whose mission is promoting the resilience of all children and the adults who care for them; he will be contributing to this blog on a monthly basis. More information on promoting resilience can be found at the center’s website.

 

 

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags

Edit ModuleShow Tags


MK Memo

MK Memo: Moms Know
Fun Facts About a Few Presidents

Fun Facts About a Few Presidents

Learn some fascinating trivia about three past presidents of the United States from kid blogger Sarah Hullihen.

Comments

KidSpeak: The 2016 Presidential Election, Part 3

KidSpeak: The 2016 Presidential Election, Part 3

We asked local kids, ages 5-10, what they would do if they were president. Check out their answers!

Comments

KidSpeak: The 2016 Presidential Election, Part 2

KidSpeak: The 2016 Presidential Election, Part 2

In this dramatic election year, we reached out to youth in both the greater Philadelphia area and near Clevelend, OH, to talk about the presidency. In this post, find out what 8th graders from the greater Philadelphia area think the next president's top priority should be and who they would vote for if they were old enough.

Comments

KidSpeak: The 2016 Presidential Election, Part 1

KidSpeak: The 2016 Presidential Election, Part 1

In this dramatic election year, we reached out to youth in both the greater Philadelphia area and near Clevelend, OH, to find out what issues they think the next president should tackle first. In this post, read what high schoolers who live near the city chosen to host the Republican National Convention think about how the next president's choices will affect them.

Comments

How to Set Up Your Pantry So Your Kids Can Help Themselves

How to Set Up Your Pantry So Your Kids Can Help Themselves

Whether it's summer or back-to-school time, kids are always looking for snacks. Reduce the hassle by setting up a space in your kitchen where your kids can serve themselves.

Comments

Edit ModuleShow Tags


MomSpeak

The voices of local moms
DIY Non-Toxic Bug & Insect Spray

DIY Non-Toxic Bug & Insect Spray

Want to steer clear of chemical bug sprays? Try these recipes for non-toxic alternatives made with essential oils.

Comments


MomSpeak

The voices of local moms
Movie Review: The BFG

Movie Review: The BFG

Mom blogger Rachée Fagg and her daughter review Disney's new movie, The BFG, based on the book by Roald Dahl.

Comments


MomSpeak

The voices of local moms
Hey, Special Needs Moms! You Complain Too Much!

Hey, Special Needs Moms! You Complain Too Much!

Mom blogger and special education advocate Lisa Lightner looks at the complaint-based nature of laws to protect individuals with disabilities.

Comments

{/if}