Are your kids mentally fine?
Children’s well-being, learning, and development are very important for their growth and future. The parent-child relationship is one that nurtures the physical, emotional, and social development of the child.
Spend this Children Mental Week with your kids and get connected with them better. Don’t worry if you’ve missed the week you still have the weekends- This year’s theme is ‘Let’s Connect’.
Children’s Mental Health Week takes place from 6 to 12 February this year.
To cherish and educate parents on the importance of a child’s development, Varnam Malaysia has taken the initiative to bring readers up close to a child psychologist.
Ashwini Balagopal is a child psychologist and a mother to a 3-year-old. She completed her Masters at UCL, London in Child & Adolescent Mental Health. Ashwini is currently engaged in an organization called HOST International under the Child Protection unit.
Varnam Malaysia’s Exclusive Q&A with Child Psychologist, Ashwini.
Why do you think children’s mental health week should be taken seriously?
Most parents believe that children cannot experience mental health issues. There are so many
negative consequences if a child’s mental health is neglected.
When a child says, “I am stressed, I am worried about so and so” – parents will typically respond as such: “get over it”, “what is there to be stressed about? You are just a child”, “wait till you become an adult” and so on.
When a child receives such a response, especially from their parents, caregivers, or trusted adult, they will never feel seen or heard. When they feel that their parents do not listen to them, or have no time for them this leads to them hiding problems and troubles faced in the future which can further deteriorate their mental health.
Neglecting your child’s mental health will cause these unhealthy patterns to be passed on to the next generation. Some adults have had unhealthy relationships with their parents – either they were a victim of child abuse, or their parents were never affectionate towards them, their parents never wanted to listen to their problems, or their parents constantly compared them with other children.
As a result, these adults have normalised these unhelpful behaviours from their parents, and do not realise how their children can be negatively affected. If their children, in turn, normalises these unhealthy behaviours, the future generation will be affected as well – it is a vicious cycle. “But you know something? YOU CAN BREAK THE CYCLE, ” said the 35-year-old child psychologist, to Varnam Malaysia.
How do we know children are facing mental health issues- are there any symptoms?
Ashwini shared the few most obvious signs that can be noted when a child is experiencing mental health issues. (Make sure to keep an eye on your kid’s behavioral patterns)
- Drastic changes in their behavior (eg: a child who is usually a happy, talkative person suddenly becomes aggressive or withdrawn)
- Changes in their eating patterns,
- Changes in their sleeping patterns
- Loss of pleasure/enjoyment in doing things they once used to love
What should parents do in order to get connected with their children?
Ashwini’s first advice was to spend valuable time with the children. It is understandable, it can get very exhausting, working all day and going back home with no energy, to your active child who is yearning for your attention.
“I feel this way a lot but at the same time, I remind myself that time flies and I will not get these precious moments back. On days I am extremely exhausted, I will be honest with my daughter and tell her that
-mummy needs to rest for a while, and I will play with you after that
Being honest and having open conversations will allow our children to understand us better as well. On days like this, I choose to engage in activities that do not require much energy like colouring and playing with lego”, shared Ashwini.
Another way to get connected is by praising their achievements and talents, no matter how “small” it may seem. Parents should keep their expectations realistic as they need to remember that children have less experience in handling and managing stress. Encourage and assure children that every small achievement counts. It will definitely calm children and help them perform better.
Most importantly, Make sure your children know you love them, even when they do something wrong. Don’t be harsh towards them when they make mistakes instead criticise the behavior and not them.
And of course, engage in self-care together with your child. Find things that both you and your child enjoy
doing together and make sure to do it very often.
Some activities parents can do this week with their kids?
“I love this question as I am always finding fun ways to bond with my 3-year-old especially on
weekends given my extremely busy weekdays”, said Ashwini.
Ahswini also explained that kids are very simple and all they want is your time and attention.
“Here are some things I love doing with my daughter-
- RELAX: have a spa day at home (I do this with my 3-year-old all the time. It is very simple -make facial masks from fruit, and give them a massage with their usual lotion followed by their favorite drinks/ snacks on some “fancy” cups and plates). Another activity I recently discovered that helps my daughter feel relaxed is playing with lego. I am not a HUGE lego fan as well.
- MOVE YOUR BODY: have a dance party at home – a great way to get your body moving! I grew up listening to Spice Girls and BackStreet Boys so I have been introducing these songs to my 3-year-old and we love dancing to them.
- GET SOME FRESH AIR: go out! There are so many wonderful places to explore. I love going to Desa Park City, Farm Fresh at UPM, Farm in the City, the KL Bird Park, or really, just any outdoor parks. For older kids, you can head to SuperPark Malaysia at Avenue K.
- GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER CHILD: My daughter and I love going to indoor playgrounds. For younger kids, you can head to KidZania, KidZoona, Petrosains, or the jungle gym.
- LEARN A NEW HOBBY: You and your child can look for something that you BOTH enjoy doing together. Go for a dance lesson or an art class. You can also learn to make something such as accessories or go for a cooking class together. These are really good ways to bond with your teenager.
With regards to the child’s mental health, as mentioned above, please be aware of some of the signs and seek professional help if needed. Most of the time, children never open up or disclose when something happens to them as they feel that no one will believe or understand them. As it’s also the children’s mental health week do take this as a serious week and engage with your kids for a better understanding and connection.
Thank you for sharing amazing messages in conjunction with Children’s mental health week, Ashwini.