There are plenty of resources available, both online and offline, which educate the average information-seeker about the classic warning signs of suicidal thoughts in young children. I am briefly mentioning them here to be able to better understand the concept of sound mental health in contrast:
1. Sudden personality changes
2. Verbal hints like, “I am tired”, “I wish I could just end it all,” and so on
3. Reckless or impulsive actions, bordering on self-destructive behaviour
4. Self-harm and suicide attempts
5. Withdrawal and isolation
If you observe any of the above in your child, it is best to immediately contact a mental health practitioner to have her evaluated.
As you interact with your child, look for presence of the following traits, which are considered to be some of the indicators of sound mental health:
A sense of humour
If your child is often laughing, dancing or playing, and appears to have a healthy self-image; lightening tense moments and being able to laugh off her stress, chances are, she has a good sense of humour. A healthy sense of humour is the ability to see the light side even in difficult situations. However, poking fun at others or laughing at the expense of others’ feelings is not considered to be good sense of humour. This could be indicative of a deep-seated insecurity, which is being masked by hurtful humour. Even constant self-deprecation in the guise of humour is not a sign of good emotional health, and warrants an evaluation.
Tolerance and patience
If your child is able to tolerate uncertainty, proactively solve problems instead of letting issues fester and patiently await the natural and logical consequences to his efforts, chances are, he is in sound mental health. On the contrary, a child who demands immediate gratification of needs could be lacking in these essential skills, which are the hallmarks of a healthy mind.
Interpersonal skills involve a wide array of people skills, ranging from the ability to strike up a conversation and sustain it, all the way to being Inclusive and empathic towards those who are differently-abled or troubled. If your child can connect with others meaningfully and have reasonable conversations while empathising with their feelings, it is highly likely that she is mentally, emotionally and psychologically healthy.
Notice if your child has the ability to be alone, while not being anti-social; can enjoy quiet time without distractions and strike a balance between socialising and recharging himself with me-time every day. All these are indicators of positive mental health and psychological fitness. On the other hand, a child who seeks out isolation and withdraws from people may be suffering from social anxiety and may require help in recovering from it.
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Demonstrates emotional regulation skills
Does your child accept and acknowledge her emotions? Is she aware of what is taking place within her own body? Does she select the appropriate expression of her emotions, including basking in positive feelings? If you answered ‘Yes’ to the above questions, your child’s mental health is most likely good. However, if you find her often denying or suppressing her emotions, refusing to communicate openly, and saying, “I am fine” every time you ask how she is; or if you sense a lack of bodymind awareness, you might want to approach a specialist to evaluate her emotional health and well-being.
Activities to enhance mental and emotional health
Here are some simple activities that you can use in promoting the mental health and well-being of your child:
1. Positives Checklist
A simple exercise requiring no props, materials or preparation, the ‘Positives Checklist’ is a reaffirming activity designed for families to build up each other’s confidence and self-esteem. The entire family sits in a circle (either on the floor or around a table), and reads out a checklist of strengths or positive qualities that they see in every other family member.
2. Friendly Description
Another simple activity, ‘Friendly Description’ is an exercise in which you ask your child to list out the traits or qualities in himself that a friend might describe as positive characteristics.
3. Let’s heal the world
To inculcate a sense of gratitude and develop tolerance, patience and kindness in your child, you can designate a day each month or every quarter, when you take her to visit an orphanage, a school for disabled children, a senior citizen’s facility or some other voluntary organisation, where as a family, you can offer to volunteer in some way. By extending kindness to those less fortunate, your child will come to appreciate her own blessings a great deal more. In the long run, this can become an asset to her in maintaining her mental health and emotional well-being.
Even though we have focused on the signs of sound mental health, there are pointers of mental ill-health interwoven into every point. If you notice any of the red flags or pointers that might be a cause for concern, please seek professional help for your child at once.
Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK).
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