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Supporting Your Child's Mental Health Journey

Summer break is a great opportunity to continue your child's development. This can be done in a lot of non-traditional methods, utilizing community-based resources and the concept that we learn from each experience we are a part of.

support your child's mental health journey

It’s okay if you’re unsure about how to support your child’s mental health journey, what’s important is that you’re taking this first step toward helping them. This article will serve as a guide to help you be the best supporter possible and provide helpful resources for success.

How Will Each of You Benefit from Prioritizing Your Child’s Mental Health?

By making a focused effort to support your child’s needs, you’ll help them get the most enjoyment out of their summer possible while setting them up for a lifetime of improved mental health.

Meanwhile, you’ll also benefit by improving your relationship with your child. Meeting their needs is an effective way to build trust and strengthen your bond. Particularly if your child is young, this is a powerful way to ensure they continue to trust you as they grow up and face increasingly difficult challenges.

If you had mental health needs that weren’t met when you were younger, supporting your kids can be an effective way to heal your inner child. While you can’t go back in time and change how you were raised, you can make sure you support your child in ways you weren’t. Just remember that you and your child aren’t the same person, and while you may see aspects of yourself in them, it’s important to understand and cater to their unique needs.

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How Can You Create a Routine to Support Your Child Over the Summer?

a family sitting at a table spending time together

Shifting into summer, school-aged children are undergoing a significant change. Not only will their schedules change completely, but they also won’t get to see the friends they’re used to spending every day with.

As a result, this can leave your little one feeling uncertain about what each day will hold and isolated from their friends. As their parent, you want the best for your children, but you also have responsibilities like work to prioritize, keeping you from spending all day setting up thorough activities and playing.

Keep a few anchors in mind, in order to facilitate a more predictable routine this summer:

  • Consistency — Find ways to build consistency into their schedule, such as getting up at the same time during the week or following a morning routine they take ownership of each day.

  • Open Communication — Talk to your child about what’s going on so they feel like an active participant. It’s stressful to not know what’s happening from day to day, while an adult ushers you from activity to activity. Consider sitting down each evening and sharing the plan for the next day. For older children, you may make this a Sunday activity where you explain the activities for the week ahead.

  • Daily Schedule — Consider creating a daily schedule and posting it somewhere your child can view it any time. If your schedule changes often, you may use dry-erase markers or velcro labels. Some children struggle with understanding the concept of time, so a physical schedule will help them see what to expect throughout the day.

  • Community Activities — It can be hard to plan everything yourself. Thankfully, many community facilities hold weekly or monthly classes and activities you can sign your child up for. These allow your little one to interact with others their own age, get out of the house, and enjoy something that’s theirs.

With those anchors in mind, you may consider collaborating with your child on an activity or event for the duration of the summer. This might include working on a continuous art piece, taking weekly trips to a local farmers market, or visiting area street festivals. By selecting an activity you and your child are interested in, you can forge a consistent routine and develop a deeper bond.

It’s always a good idea to incorporate education into fun activities, to bridge the gap between leaving school in the spring and returning in the fall. Engage your child in learning in ways that are a-typical to school-based teaching. This will allow them to continue learning while still feeling like they’re on break.

father and daughter washing dishes

For example, pick one night a week for your child to cook with you (or alone if they’re old enough). Through cooking, your child will reinforce math concepts by using measurements while following a recipe encourages executive functioning of reading, sequences, and following directions. Gardening together is another great example — your child will reinforce plant life cycles, photosynthesis, and other important science concepts.

Best Practices for Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health Journey

Ask Better Questions

It’s easy to fall into the trap of only asking your child questions like, “How was your day? What happened at school? Did you learn anything?” Unfortunately, these aren’t very enticing questions and don’t leave much room for your child to share their interesting experiences. You’re more likely to get one-word, grunted answers than start an intentional conversation with your child.

Instead, try to change up the questions you ask each day to encourage your child to share more. If your kid still isn’t interested in engaging, consider sharing your answer to the question first. They might be more inclined to agree (or disagree) with you.

Children are willing to engage when they feel heard and supported. Set up intentional time to do a daily or nightly check-in. Having routine-based check-ins will help your child feel prepared for the conversation, and signal to them that you are interested in learning more about them. This is a great routine to start in the summer that can carry into the school year.

Children can have a natural cognitive delay, so hold the space and allow them time to process the question without rushing them to answer. This process can teach many foundational skills, such as effective communication and active listening skills.

A few questions you may start asking include:

  • If your emotion was a color, what would it be?

  • If your feeling was a movement, what would it look like?

  • If you could do anything right now, what would you do?

  • What was something that happened today that surprised you?

  • What made you laugh today?

  • What bugs you the most?

  • What was your favorite thing about today?

  • What’s a memory that always makes you happy?

  • When do you feel most loved by me?

  • If we could do anything this Summer, what 3 things would you want to do?

  • If you were a teacher, what would you teach?

  • How would you change the world if you could?

Asking more interesting questions at a time your child is expecting them is an effective way to not only evade the one-word answers, but also foster deeper conversations. Ideally, this will turn into longer interactions where you both get to share about yourselves. By creating this pathway for transparent communication, your child will be more likely to feel comfortable talking about harder topics when they arise.

Asking more interesting questions at a time your child is expecting them is an effective way to not only evade the one-word answers, but also foster deeper conversations. Ideally, this will turn into longer interactions where you both get to share about yourselves. By creating this pathway for transparent communication, your child will be more likely to feel comfortable talking about harder topics when they arise.

Spend Time Getting to Know Them

As a parent, you may already feel like you know your child better than anyone else. After all, you likely spend the most time with them and have known them longer than anyone else.

In reality, your perception of your child likely differs from their perception of themself. While it can help to share all the positive things you know about your kid, you should also spend time getting to know them from their perspective.

To do this, it’s important to first recognize that you aren’t an expert on your child — they are the expert on themselves. From there, create opportunities to learn more about how they see themselves. Ask thought-provoking questions and really listen when they respond.

Spend time learning about their interests and really caring about them. For example, you might consider hosting “Listening Parties” where your child can share some of their favorite songs to listen to, while you have a dance party. Or, you might have a “Book Club” where you both read one of their favorite books and discuss it together.

When you invest the effort to really know your child, it will be easier to detect when something is off about them.

Respect Their Boundaries

It can be tempting to assume your child needs to share everything with you, and that you should have unfiltered access to their communications. After all, you want to protect them and ensure they aren’t putting themself in harm’s way.

Unfortunately, by disrespecting your child, you’ll lose trust their trust, making them more likely to hide things from you in the future. Instead, respect the boundaries they set. Avoid going through their phone, barging into their room, or talking about them behind their back.

Share From Your Own Experiences (Within Reason)

While your child shouldn’t be your therapist, and you should avoid making them feel burdened by your struggles, sometimes it can help to normalize how they may feel. It’s important for your child to see that you’re human, too. These conversations can lead to deeper discussions about which regulation skills you’ve found to be helpful as an adult, along with best practices for coping with different situations.