Promoting Wellness in Children

Promoting Wellness in Children

The youth of today may not be experiencing more trials than older generations, but we’re certainly more aware of them now. With 24/7 access to news, we know more about children living with anxiety, depression, and physical ailments. The question is, what are we doing to promote wellness in our children, whether it’s emotional, mental, or physical?

Start at a Young Age

Many well-meaning advice-givers say you shouldn’t spoil your baby with physical affection, even if holding the baby is the only way to soothe them. However, establishing solid self-esteem in your child begins with offering them the physical affection they need. Daily hugs, high-fives, or just helping them brush their hair each morning is a great way to promote self-worth in children. Research even suggests that since hugs release feelings of stress, they can increase a person’s immune system, helping them stay healthier.

Besides providing the physical closeness you and your child need to feel bonded, here are other ways you can promote emotional, mental, and physical wellness.

Helping Your Child Cultivate Emotional Health

As a caregiver, it’s your responsibility to teach your child about their emotions. They need to be shown, by example, how to identify what they’re feeling. They need to be shown how to express their emotions in a healthy way and cope with anything that’s overwhelming.

The first step toward cultivating emotional health in your child is to teach them that all emotions are okay. We cannot avoid feeling mad or sad, even if we don’t like those emotions. Let’s take a look at some of the other steps you can take to help your children navigate their emotions.

Validate the Emotion

However your child responds to stimuli, validate what they’re feeling. They shouldn’t have to react a certain way in order to get your attention; acknowledge that your child is feeling something, and help them understand it’s okay to react or respond.

Identify the Emotion

Once it’s clear your child is experiencing emotions, help them label it. Ask them how they would describe what they’re feeling physically as a result of the emotion- maybe they feel hot if they’re mad, cold if they’re scared, or like they have butterflies in their stomachs when they’re excited. Teach them to connect these physical sensations with their emotional state.

When a child can give a label to their emotions, they can better express themselves so you can understand how to help them cope with what they’re feeling.

Cope with the Emotion

Dr. Gottman shares a very powerful message regarding emotional intelligence: “All emotions are acceptable but all behaviors are not.” Children should be encouraged to feel what they’re feeling, but we need to give them the tools to deal with their feelings in appropriate ways. Essentially, you will teach your child that feeling angry is normal and healthy, but hitting someone when feeling angry is not. 

Helping Your Child Cultivate Mental Health

As caregivers, we sometimes have to fight the urge to shield children from things they’re afraid of, or that challenge them. Unfortunately, this may have long-term consequences for our children. Learning to deal with anxiety, depression, or fear is important to cultivating mental resilience in our children.

For example, if a child is terrified of going to the dentist, you wouldn’t avoid taking them to see one their whole life! That’s doing them no favors, and teaching them that fear has ultimate power over. Instead, you’d turn to a pediatric dentist for advice on how to reduce the anxiety your child feels about going to the dentist. Together, you’d explore possible coping methods until you find the right fit for your child.

Similarly, if your child is living with other mental health issues, your responsibility is to find the resources you need to navigate those waters. No one should have to suffer through mental illness alone, especially your child. 

Corner Canyon Counseling stresses the importance of supporting loved ones with mental health issues, and you can read some of their suggestions HERE. Much like cultivating emotional wellness in a child, mental health can be promoted with validation, a label, and the right coping skills.

Mental Health America also recommends the following for supporting a child’s mental health:

  • Unconditional love

  • Socialization with other children

  • Appropriate discipline

  • Guidance from caregivers such as parents and teachers

If your child is struggling with self-esteem, their mental health can suffer. Or, existing mental health issues such as an anxiety disorder or depression can affect their feelings of self-worth. If you are concerned you don’t have the right tools to help your child with their mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional who specializes in children’s wellness.

Helping Your Child Cultivate Physical Health

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 21.2% of children aged 12 - 19 are obese. It’s important to start teaching children about food choices and physical activity benefits at a young age. You don’t have to lecture your kids about nutrition and exercise; they just need to see you modeling healthful behaviors.

Don’t Label Foods “Good” vs “Bad”

To promote a healthy relationship with food, avoid labeling your children’s food as “good” food vs “bad” food. Instead, provide your child with a variety of foods and let them learn about moderation in all things. 

Get Kids Involved in Food Prep

It can be frustrating to have kids helping in the kitchen, but it’s one of the best ways to get them excited about mealtime. It will not only teach them about nutrition, but it will teach them math, science, and help build their self-esteem. The best part is, your children won’t even realize all they’re learning; they’ll just enjoy spending time with you.

Eat Together

We all experience busy seasons, but whenever possible, have meals and snacks together. It gives you the chance to model good eating habits to your children, and an opportunity to bond with them.

Monitor Screen Time

As hard as it is to resist letting a screen “babysit” the kids, it’s important to do so in order to promote physical wellness. Instead of letting the kids play video games that mimic sports, get outside and play those sports together. Set up a system of earning TV time, i.e. ask that your kids spent at least 30 minutes being active before they can enjoy 30 minutes of their show.

Get Moving Together

As with modeling good nutritional habits, one of the best ways to encourage your kids to be physically active is to do activities together. Whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, swimming, or just chasing each other around the kitchen table, get moving together.

Children ages 6 to 17 should aim for at least 60 minutes of physical exercise each day, so get creative to find an activity that makes movement fun. It could be skateboarding, yoga, or an organized sport. If helping your kids develop healthy physical habits feels out of your wheelhouse, there are resources available to help. Look into your local recreation center, school teams, or training programs like P1 Youth that specialize in fitness for children. 

KidsHealth has great advice for parents regarding physical wellness: “Whatever their fitness personality, all kids can be physically fit. A parent’s positive attitude will help a child who’s reluctant to exercise.”