Alison McClymont is a well respected child psychotherapist with over a decades worth of experience at the forefront of children’s mental health. In this artcile she shares tips to help boost mental health for all the family.
Whilst we may not be blessed with a climate that provides hours of sunshine and that all essential vitamin D, research has shown that all time outside in fresh air boosts serotonin, regulates circadian rhythms and helps to combat low mood or lethargy
Family walks, football in the garden, bike rides, or trips to the local leisure centre are not only great for your body, they are essentially for brain health. 30 minutes of exercise a day has been shown to increase serotonin (the happy chemical), reduce cortisol (the stress chemical) and improve memory by producing cell activity in the hippocampus!
Get healthy eating
Good sources of happy brain food are essential fats such as avocados, nuts and oily fish…also broccoli, blueberries, turmeric and citrus fruits. But we all know that- so here’s one for the parents- studies also show that coffee, chocolate and red wine might also be helpful too,,, in moderation! (sorry to be a kill joy, but blame the science not me)
We often talk these days about modelling kindness and being kind to others, but how do we explain this abstract concept to children? If you are as a family give to charity, or volunteer for one, you might explain to your child why you choose that charity and what it feels like when you donate/volunteer. You also might explain to your child how you feel after you do a favour for someone and how it feels when someone does a favour for you. The key here is connecting the feeling of gratitude for others and joy at helping others, with actions. We can also educate children that kind words can lead to kind actions, for example it is “kind” to offer words of support to a friend who is sad, and this becomes an action that makes the friend feel better.
No parent of an under 2 wants to read the benefits of that much desired entity…sleep, but it’s true. Sleep is where our brain detoxes, regenerates and grows, and it is an absolute necessity for health and happiness. Children under 12 need 10 hours of sleep a night, this is crucial for them to wake up refreshed, revitalised and ready to tackle the day. Educating children on the benefits of sleep is important, as is modelling good sleep patterns yourself- so no more 1am Netflix sessions- get to bed in time to get your 8 hours.
Watch your language
I am not talking here about swearing, I’m referring to watching how we talk about ourselves and others in front of our children. Children pick up so much from us and modelling respectful communication is so important if we want to raise respectful adults. For example, using please and thank you, as well as trying to refrain from snide remarks or gossip in front of children, helps to encourage empathy and respect for others. Equally, less of the self-deprecation if you want to raise confident, body positive kids. Of course its ok to make fun of yourself and it’s important that our kids recognise we are failable humans, but negative comments about your appearance or achievements are not embracing fallibility, they are modelling harsh self-critique. When we as therapists discuss the “inner critic” it is rare that we are talking about a measured, kind and non-judgmental voice, it is likely to be a punitive, self-esteem reducing, critical voice that attacks our being- so when we engage with negative comments about our self, we are feeding this inner critic. If we don’t want to teach children to feed their “inner critic”, try as much as possible to speak to others and yourself (!) how you would wish to be spoken to and watch your children do the same
Keep up to date with Alison on instagram @AlisonMcClymontinsta