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The 6 best things parents can do for their kid's mental health, according to a psychologist.

We’re 10 months into 2020 and we’re all feeling it. 

We’re exhausted, we're losing motivation, we’re frustrated, but mostly we’re just over it. 

But we're not the only ones the pandemic has taken a toll on. Kids have seen major disruption to their daily routines and schooling like they've never experienced before.

Even now as restrictions continue to ease, the world still feels like a very different place (for both kids and adults). 

Watch: How to talk to people with anxiety. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia.

So, to help children maintain good mental health - particularly at a time like this - we spoke to Kirrilie Smout, a Clinical Psychologist working with children and teens, to ask what parents can do to help.

Here are her six tips.

1. Sleep and physical exercise are key.

We're always hearing that sleep and physical exercise are good for our mental health and the same goes for kids too. 

"Making sure they have good wind down routines, know how to relax their bodies so they can get to sleep, have enough time in bed (but not so long that they are lying in bed awake for hours) and not too many late nights really matters," Kirrilie tells Mamamia.

The pair also go hand-in-hand.

"Good sleep is made much easier by making sure they have enough physical activity and exercise." 

While keeping kids active isn't always easy (especially during a lockdown), Kirrilie says whatever you can do to get your kid's heart rate up every day will help. 

2. Get creative. 

While kids love screen time, spending hours on TikTok isn't going to be the best thing for them. Instead, kids should engage in creative and meaningful activities.  

"Children have better self-esteem and better mental health when they think they are working towards something, feel good at something and have occupied and creative time. Thousands of hours on YouTube are not good for anyone, and that goes double for kids," says Kirrilie.

This is where hobbies come into play. 

"Letting children know that we expect them to have some kind of hobby and extra curricular activity throughout their childhood and adolescence - they can choose what they do, not IF they do something, is a great rule to establish early."

3. Establish a caring and open relationship.

Having a warm, caring and open relationship with your kids is another important factor for good mental health. 

"Research shows that this kind of relationship is linked to better mental health in the long term," says Kirrilie.

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"What this looks like will vary enormously family to family, but it includes physical affection, statements of love and appreciation, conversation, sharing and time spent doing things together."

4. Friendships matter. 

"Kids with good friendships do better than those who don't," says Kirrilie.

While making friends (at any age) is easier said than done, parents can help by making sure kids have access to more opportunities where they can make friends and increase their social skills. 

Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, look at how lockdown has been affecting children's mental health. Post continues below.

5. Setting rules and routines.

No kid loves hearing the words 'rules and routines' but they're actually an important part of helping children acheive good mental health. 

This includes, establishing homework routines, regular sleep times, chores and making sure kids take responsibility for their "stuff".  

"There is lots of research to suggest that parents/caregivers who consistently and calmly set and enforce rules and boundaries for kids have children who have better mental health in the long term, than parents who do not do this." 

That said, Kirrilie recognises "this is definitely harder and more exhausting for some families than others (so it's important for us as parents to not judge each other on this)."

6. Body image.

When it comes to promoting a positive body image in kids, Kirrilie advises parents to "avoid discussing people's (and especially their) size, shape or appearance, including making jokes or teasing". Instead, "comment positively on attributes people have more control over," like kindness, effort or creativity.

She also encourages parents to "talk about the importance of and set rules about healthy eating and exercise without referring to weight, size or shape". For example, explaining that "we eat well and exercise to look after our body, not to look a certain way".

Parents are also advised to model healthy eating, exercise habits and body acceptance themselves by avoiding dieting and talking about dissatisfaction with their own bodies in front of kids.

Limiting exposure to social media for as long as possible is also a good idea. When the time does eventually come for kids to start using social media, Kirrilie says parents should educate their kids on the negative psychological effects that come with spending hours looking at 'idealised' body shapes online. 

"If young people seem to be significantly restricting their food, losing weight or excessively exercising - get help as soon as you are concerned, don't wait."

If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Kid's Helpline is also available on 1800 551 800.

Feature Image: Getty.

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