Emotional wellbeing relates to being mentally healthy.
It is having a positive approach to life, which enables a child to enjoy themselves, build and maintain relationships with others, and show resilience in the face of adversity.
It is the ability to produce positive emotions, moods, thoughts and feelings. Even when faced with a challenging situation, a person with a positive outlook and resilience will show versatility and adaptability in how they respond. The more resilience they execute, the more adaptable and resilient they will become overall.
Emotional wellbeing is also about managing negative emotions. It is not about suppressing these negative feelings – understanding and expressing both good and bad feelings is fundamental – but children who can keep their negative emotions in check will be able to form stronger relationships with others and become more adaptable as they progress through life.
Childhood experiences lay the foundation of mental health.
Early experiences shape the architecture of the developing brain. Any disruptions to this developmental process will have a negative impact on the child’s capacity for learning, ability to respond to stress and on their relationships with others.
This is influenced by a number of different factors, many of which occur early in life within the family setting. Any stress or trauma that happens within the family can threaten a child’s mental health; be it divorce, separation or the loss of a loved one. These situations may be unavoidable, but they can be managed carefully to minimise the impact on the child’s wellbeing.
Other factors affecting children’s wellbeing are:
Improving children’s early-life experiences coupled with the development of positive, safe relationships can promote positive emotional development in young children.
Meaningful, stable relationships with family members and peers are crucial to emotional development.
Children learn how to behave, respond, think, understand, communicate and express themselves based on the quality of the relationships around them.
Relationships should be reciprocal and secure. Responsive relationships help to boost the child’s confidence, encourage emotional stability and will enable them to develop better social skills. It also helps to build coping strategies.
Relationships should be ‘in person’ and children shouldn’t rely on social media or technology to feel connected. This ensures that relationships are authentic.
Interactions, such as reading and interpreting facial emotions, are learned behaviours. Over technology, this ability to read and understand others through their body language gets diluted or lost entirely.
A ‘like’ or a comment on a social media post doesn’t match up to seeing a person directly in front of them and the facial expressions or gestures that communicate emotions or sentiments.
Parents should also be mindful of their own social media consumption in front of their children. Quality of engagement is threatened by ‘distracted parenting’ which suggests that parental screen time is more of a threat to children’s mental health than the child’s exposure to screens themselves. The best way to teach children the appropriate ways to consume technology and social media is by demonstrating it yourself.
Ways to improve the quality of the relationship with your own children:
Understanding feelings can be complicated for young children, especially those with special educational needs.
It’s an abstract concept – it’s hard to describe how emotions make us feel – and some feelings can be big or scary for them to experience.
From the age of 2, families can start talking to their child about a range of basic feelings such as ‘happy’, ‘sad’ or ‘cross’. This can be done by discussing characters in stories or picture books, and the way they deal with a challenge they face.
Understanding other people’s feelings teaches empathy – an important concept for young children who tend to think the world revolves around them.
As children get older, parents can start to explain more complicated emotions such as frustration, hope, anxiety, jealousy, shyness or curiosity.
Kids who understand their emotions are less likely to act out by using aggression or temper tantrums to express themselves. A child who can explain when they feel mad or upset is less likely to use physical aggression to demonstrate their point.
Whatever the age of your children, two things are key:
1) Reiterate that it’s OK for children to feel angry or sad. They are normal emotions and talking about how they might be feeling is a positive step in understanding and processing how they feel. Encourage them to breathe slowly to help them calm down.
2) Talk about your own emotions and label them as you experience them. For example, a parent might say ‘Mummy is feeling a bit grumpy today because she had a bad night’s sleep last night’, or ‘Daddy is a bit frustrated because he missed the bus’. It helps to normalise all kinds of emotions, positive or negative, and will assist the child in understanding their own response
Keeping calm and showing resilience will enable parents to reinforce a secure emotional response and demonstrate to children that it is possible to keep their emotions in check. It will lead them to believe that they can cope no matter what life throws at them.
Physical activity brings with it a raft of mental and physical health benefits.
From greater confidence and self-esteem, to improved sleep and more energy, it is a natural stress reliever. Exercise has even been linked to reduced rates of depression and dementia.
Sporty children may enjoy participating in team sports, PE lessons and active playtime during school break times. Cross-country, football, swimming and netball are popular pursuits for young children, and they help to improve balance, coordination, teamwork and strengthen bones.
However, it doesn’t have to be about organised team sports. Other activity ideas include:
Google a free resource like Stay Active – which gives ‘at home’ exercise inspiration with simple instructions to follow
Create time in the calendar and commit to regular exercise each week. It’s fun and comes with a raft of benefits for children and adults alike!
Being creative helps to stimulate our mind, appeal to our senses and allow us to express ourselves.
Art can help to keep us calm and has been reported to reduce GP visits and hospital admissions in people experiencing mental health problems.
As well as entertain us, art enables us to explore materials and try something new. It also helps with the development of fine motor skills in young children. It’s popular in schools and with teachers for these reasons!
Anyone can express themselves with any number of materials, particularly with art in nature, where sticks, mud and leaves are readily available and can be used to play with sculpture, shape and form. It’s superb for their imagination!
By exploring materials such as paint, chalk, mud, clay, crayons, leaves, twigs, pinecones, sand and water, children will foster mental growth while having fun; which in itself will improve their mood and relieve tension.
You can also get creative whilst listening to calming music. It’s not only relaxing but can create a soothing, quiet environment to help steady the breath and encourage creativity to flow.
Kindness is more than just an emotion. It inspires greater behavioural changes which can positively change the brain.
Kindness enables children to consider the feelings of others. It also teaches them to be accepting and courteous to other people and to behave helpfully and graciously towards them.
Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters in the brain which generate wellbeing and satisfaction.
Why not arrange a simple bake sale to raise funds for a local charity or get some shopping for an elderly neighbour? Gestures don’t need to be big to mean a lot.
It’s also important that children extend the same kind behaviours to themselves. As adults, our anxieties can cause us to punish ourselves for what we ‘should have done or ‘could have done better’. Rather than being negative, children should acknowledge the positives and remember to treat themselves with the care and courtesy they treat others.
If you think your child is struggling, it’s important to talk to them.
Try to find out what’s troubling them and how they’re feeling. Whatever is causing the problem, accept what they are saying and take it seriously. It could be a major problem for your child and it’s important that they feel listened to and supported.
There are a number of organisations and helplines that can help: