Mental illness affects approximately one in seven children and teens at some point, so while early identification of warning signs is important, fostering strong, resilient mental health from birth is essential.
Following are some beneficial strategies and useful tools to help nurture your children’s mental health at every stage of development.
Infant: 0 to 12 months
At this stage, the foundation of mental wellness is laid by watching your baby and following their cues so they don’t become overwhelmed by too much interaction, or feel unsafe from too little.
- Engage in frequent eye contact and touch. This creates security and deep bonding.
- To encourage attachment, use facial expressions and body language to communicate.
- Respond calmly and sensitively when your baby is distressed to create a feeling of safety.
- Meet their needs, whether it’s food, love or encouragement.
Toddler: 1 to 3 years
At this stage, exploration is taking place and toddlers have big, intense feelings. Validation and predictability are essential as they build a strong mental foundation.
- Have patience and give positive feedback often.
- Show consistent reactions to behavior; this will offer reliability and mental stamina.
- Teach your child that you are their safe person, protecting them as they explore their world and home confidently.
- Keep their environment comfortable and predictable.
Preschooler: 3 to 6 years
Preschoolers feel everything and need to express it. This can be beautiful, but also challenging.
- Engage with your child through creativity, like art, music, dance and mindfulness.
- Allow for connection and separation when appropriate, helping your preschooler gain independence and mental strength through validation and attention.
- Engage in physical exercise to help manage stress and build confidence.
- Read books that teach about feelings so they learn to express their emotions constructively.
School age: 6 to 12 years
Children are often spending more time away from primary caregivers and are developing friendships and independence. Attachment becomes less physical now, but emotional attachment is crucial.
- Reassure your child that you are there, keeping them safe, even from a distance.
- Keep communicating about subjects that are relevant to them, including technology, online safety and relationships.
- Don’t overschedule. Aim for just one extracurricular activity a day and a full day off each week. Family time together is vital to creating unity.
Teenager: 13 to 18 years
Teens may become more self-conscious and might engage in risky behaviors. Connection is crucial but can be tricky, as teens often question and rebel.
- Open up topics and listen. If it’s never been mentioned, they will think it’s taboo.
- Offer freedom and a secure home base that invites discussion and safety while independence is growing; teens need you now more than ever.
- Include your teen’s friends whenever appropriate and make your home the hub of action. Rules are followed while maintaining a close connection with your child.
- Find balance between rules and leniency. Keeping your teens safe while allowing them to develop as individuals encourages accountability.