How to Nurture Children’s Mental and Emotional Health
A guest blog post by writer Annie Candyman
Children’s mental and emotional health is as important as their physical health. As visited in our previous post on learning in the classroom, meeting where students are mentally and emotionally is vital, especially in the wake of the pandemic which disrupted learning. To address the different mental health needs of students, our schools at KIPP Massachusetts keep Social Emotional Learning (SEL) at the core of every classroom— enabling teachers and staff to take a holistic approach to education and address the different mental health needs of students. This is especially true with Play Based Learning, where even the youngest students can learn to better deal with conflicts and regulate their emotions as they arise.
But aside from educators, parents must address children’s mental and emotional health at home. Mental health serves as their foundation to develop socially and learn new skills. Through nurturing experiences, children can have a better outlook on life and better engage with different environments, helping them grow. Below are some ways parents can nurture children’s mental and emotional health:
Encourage sensory awareness
A great way to enrich children’s minds and bodies is to engage them in sensory play activities. Not only do these activities get them in touch with their senses, but they can also boost their problem-solving skills and other cognitive abilities. Children with sensory issues can be introduced to different sensations through playdough. It’s recommended to choose all-natural play dough, which is made with safe, non-toxic materials that are good for children as young as four. Other products like slime and kinetic sand allow children to engage their senses safely without overwhelming them. Furthermore, once they get absorbed in sensory play, their focus can have a soothing effect—easing anxiety.
Let them care for living things
Beyond building relationships with humans, teaching children stewardship and empathy towards nature is important, particularly with animals. Having pets can improve mental and emotional health, making them perfect companions during childhood development. Of course, a real pet can be challenging for young kids still learning responsibility, so it’s wise to invest in a robot animal pet—which can be an excellent way to enjoy these benefits without the burden of intense care. For children who want a semblance of a genuine puppy, the Joy For All Companion Pets Pup has a realistic-sounding bark and life-like fur, with built-in sensors that can detect gestures. Using a robot pet can benefit kids who want interactive play but struggle socially, helping them feel comforted and less lonely. Once you think they’re ready, you can thoughtfully discuss taking in a living pet with your child.
Provide positive feedback and encouragement
A crucial part of children’s growth is to let them experience failures. Children should learn to recognize, accept, and overcome any “weaknesses,” so parents must provide positive feedback and encouragement. As recommended by psychologist Carol Dweck, parents should focus more on praising the process, not the outcome, to develop a growth mindset. Parents should aim to support their children’s learning strategies and how they can harness their strengths. This can help boost their self-esteem and keep them motivated to succeed.
Model healthy behavior
Even adults can struggle with handling emotions, but what’s more important is their reaction to them. Kids learn through imitation, including emotional expression and regulation, so parents should model healthy behavior by communicating well with their children. Rather than saying the day was “good” or “OK,” parents should talk to their children about how they’re feeling, how they handled their emotions in that situation, and how they coped with those feelings. When children understand how it’s fine to mess up sometimes, they can better deal with negative moments and move on to better memories.
Parents can help children become more resilient and develop better emotional habits by focusing on their mental and emotional health. This can open them up to more learning opportunities, boosting their growth.
Written exclusively for Kippma.org
by Annie Candyman