Knowing where to even begin on a journey of mental well-being with yourself and your children can be difficult. Here are some things that may help you get started.
In my experience, evaluating your existing situation and what your realistically achievable goals are is a good starting point.
When considering your existing situation, take time to note:
• Do any mental health conditions or illness run in your family?
• Is there any possible predisposition to mental conditions or illness? (E.g. genetics, poverty, environment, poor physical health)
• What are the ages of those in the family?
• What do I/we struggle with the most? (E.g. boundaries, routine, consistency, communication)
• What is the general baseline of our home life? (E.g. calm and peaceful, chaotic and erratic, mixed)
• How well do we communicate? Is my child(ren) able to be honest with me or do they tend to lie?
• How well do we manage difficult emotions as a family?
• Am I enjoying being a parent, or is it exhausting and stressful?
• Do we have fun together more often than we don't?
When considering your realistically, achievable goals, take time to note:
• What are my immediate aims? (E.g. implementing routines, decreasing negative behaviours, improving family communication)
• What are my overall hopes for the family? (E.g. to feel relaxed, comfortable, safe and secure. To communicate and support each other better.)
• What kind of relationship do I want with my children?
• How do I want my children to feel about me? Like they can trust me, they are safe, listened to and heard.
Steps to Understanding: Why is it important?
Psychology is an important tool that can help us to recognise a person's emotional state and what they need. Human babies have no other choice to use emotional expression, such as crying when distressed, in pain, dislike something or excitable babbles when they're happy, content and like something. Not only are human babies adept at conveying emotional needs through behaviours (wailing of the arms, crying, body movements), they're also incredibly good at recognising the emotional states of others. Babies rely on the information from somebody's face to influence their own emotional state and behaviours. A soothing, gentle look from a loved one is likely to elicit a positive response, whereas a stern, furrowed look can provoke discomfort. We even respond to body language as a whole - for example, viewing crossed arms as closed off and unsafe, vs open arms as safe and welcoming.
I personally believe that taking the time to read about innate human behaviours can help us to recognise that often, most behaviours and emotions are simply behavioural spillover from our ancestors. Most behaviours, like lying, for example - actually served a purpose to our survival and is why it has remained in our DNA.
I also believe that arming your children with information about their genes, biology and psychology can help them to understand themselves better, challenge innate biases, accept their truest selves and embrace the world around them.
The Puzzle Pieces You'll Need
Compassion (towards self and others)
Having compassion means being able to take empathy (joining others in their difficulties) a step further.
With compassion, we can step back from the emotion of empathy and ask "how can we realistically help?"
Empathy means being able to 'know' how someone is feeling, even when you aren't in the same situation. Using compassion means understanding another's point of view, thoughts and feelings - even if you don't agree with them. Validation is a form of empathy - and it can be used to soothe the emotional state of another, without telling them that they're wrong for feeling or experiencing something. Children who grow up with empathetic and compassionate parents are more likely to be happier and closer to their parents and will develop empathethic, supportive behaviours towards others, whilst being able to challenge any inner judgements.
Self-awareness and self-esteem
Self-awareness is how well we know and experience ourselves, it's what we do and don't like, what our basic needs are and how we think and feel. When we're able to utilise and nurture our self-awareness, our self-esteem subsequently rises. It is not only children that require self-awareness. Adults who are more self-aware tend to have stronger relationships with their children.
Self-esteem is built by many things, mostly external factors. Children who are encouraged to be kind to and praise themselves, make choices and understand themselves, emotions, thoughts and feelings early on tend to have a stronger sense of self, decreased risk to depression and higher tolerance to distressing situations.
Choices and consequences (behaviour reinforcement)
There's no doubt that choices and consequences are an integral part of human life. Without them, children and adults alike would seldom know what is right or wrong. The word consequence carries a negative connotation, but we have just as many positive consequences as we do negative.
Choices and consequences, or behaviour reinforcement, focuses on the more positive aspects of parenting - praise, rewards, choices and consequences, negotiating, communicating and placing appropriate responsibility. Choices and consequences encourages children to make their own decisions and equip them with the tools to cope with any potential negative consequences.
Children have been observed to develop in four different ways: emotionally, intellectually, socially and physically. It is normal to become frustrated when your child cannot do something another child their age can do with ease, but we need to be able to match our expectations to what our children can actually do.
Children are constantly learning thousands of skills at different rates, and by applying too much pressure, we can create stressed, frustrated, angry, despairing or rebellious children.
There is plenty, easily accessible information surrounding child developmental stages and ages.
Something that can help is by writing a list of the expected milestones, the ones your child(ran) has been successful with, and what they're struggling with. For example, if other children of the same age are able to tie their shoelaces, but your child is not - this is unlikely a cause for medical concern, and simply something to be focused on as a goal as part of learning.
If you're finding that your child is not meeting the expected milestones and this is causing concern, it may be time to contact a GP for advice.