By Niraj Doshi
With mental illness spreading like wildfire and every one of us fighting our own battles, external support becomes highly crucial in helping us through our most vulnerable phases. This help can be in the form of a friend, a guide, a doctor, a therapist or even an online article in some cases.
Mental issues these days are not only restricted to a certain age group. From children to senior citizens, everyone finds themselves being a victim of this disease. And when it comes to children, the first level of support can only be their parents. However, not all parents can understand when their ward is going through such a phase, and even if they get a hint, very few tend to take it seriously.
In today’s world, the burden on kids is ever-mounting. From studies to extra-curricular activities, kids are regularly subjected to constant pressure to become the best in every field. And only a parent can put an end to this. They should give ample opportunities to their kids to enjoy their childhood. Constant pressure to perform and be the best is the primary reason why children suffer from mental issues these days. All they need is support and someone who understands or listens to them.
The thing with mental illness is that it does take a lot of time for an individual to understand that he or she is a victim of it or to decipher what exactly is wrong with him or her. And when it comes to a child, this stage is much worse. But as is widely believed, it is never too late for anything. Once the parents lend an ear to their child’s problems and realise what issues they are facing, they can still work on them and improve health.
So, rather than focusing on what mental issues are, let us concentrate on what steps parents can take to boost their child’s mental health.
As a parent, you should motivate your child to cut short their indoor time and spend some hours outdoors, indulging in a sport or playing with friends. Every child should be connected to a sport he or she loves to play for regular doses of adrenaline. Staying outdoors also increases Vitamin D, a very important nutrient in a child’s growth. Exercising is truly one of the most important ways to boost yours as well as your child’s mental as well as physical health.
Also, this playtime should not only be limited to the outdoors. Mental games also help in giving them a boost in real life. From puzzles to board games to others, they should invest time on these as well to activate brain cell growth. These outdoor and indoor activities help to boost energy and aids in lowering a child’s stress level. Also, the more they play, the better they sleep. More brownie points for a parent there!
We all know that food is essential for our body and physical health, but who knew that it would be associated with our mental health as well? The nutrients that we intake affects our overall growth. If the right nutrients are consumed, it helps in regulating mood.
Incorporating the following foods would greatly help them in achieving a proper mental balance.
Salmon: The fatty acids present in fish are healthy fats. These fatty acids help protect our brain cells while the Omega 3 fats help in aiding communication within our brain cells. Research says that lesser the Omega 3 in our body, higher the chances of depression. Salmon also contains Vitamin D which helps in the management of depression.
Lentils: Lentils contain a vitamin that produces serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that is also known as the ‘happy hormone’. Being low on the glycaemic index, lentils help to regulate blood sugar levels which in turn ensure our mood is fine and there’s consistent energy throughout the day.
Bananas: Among fruits, bananas are believed to be the best when it comes to mood enhancement. Bananas affect tryptophan, another essential amino acid that helps in producing serotonin, which in turn helps us with sleep and regulation of food. It also gives us enough energy to sail through the day.
Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidant beta-carotene that helps in reducing damage to the brain cells. It is also believed to reduce the oxidative stress on DNA, leading to a lessening of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.
As children specifically prefer eating unhealthy food over healthy ones, ensuring their diet has the right proportion of nutrients is definitely a task. To counter their ward’s dislike of certain fruits and veggies, the parents can add them to the diet in a fun way, such as smoothies, sandwiches and others. These will ensure the kid’s mental growth is at par with his physical growth.
It is always important to find some time out solely for the family and distance ourselves from the daily chores of our lives. With all living a hectic life, giving adequate time to our children may become a task, especially if both parents are working. The monotony of daily life of attending school, going to tuition, doing homework and others can get to both the child and their parents.
Breaking away from this monotonous life is very important for our and the child’s mental well-being and going for a small holiday really helps us in that process. It ensures that we get to relax with our loved ones and unwind from our daily affairs. Be it a weekend getaway or a long extravagant holiday during the vacations in school, we all need to leave everything behind in order to spend time with the ones we love. This will ensure the kids not only look forward to exciting times and to learn from visiting new places, but also restart their life with new vigour after returning.
There’s nothing like home and a child’s maximum mental growth depends on how the home environment is. Hence, as a parent one should ensure the atmosphere back home is lively, positive and a safe haven for their children. Showing an ample amount of love and appreciation coupled with praising them for their small achievements goes a long way in bringing peace in a child’s mind.
Asking questions about their likes and dislikes, daily interests and their feelings also makes a child feel wanted. A parent needs to ensure communication and conversation flows smoothly in the house and there’s no violence or negativity that can make a child will unsafe. This will lead to them opening up to their parents whenever they feel sad, hurt or worse, depressed.
Spending time with nature and animals lowers stress hormones and releases oxytocin, which stimulates a feeling of calm and happiness. The purring sound of cats or a warm fuzzy hug from a dog can really be a stress buster.
Hence, it is always advised that a family should ideally always adopt a pet to ensure their children learn the importance of love and care from a young age and they also have a friend for life. It’s one of the best ways to deal with the reality of the world and the mental state.
Even going for a walk in a garden or park nearby has a similar effect. The greenery calms the mind and activates the brain. This also ensures your child understands the importance of preserving nature from a young age and also finds a calm mental state at all times.
Always remember that in this battle of mental health never leave your child alone. Make these small changes in your lifestyle and see your child blossoming into a completely different human being. All the best!
(The writer is co-founder, Save A Life Foundation.)