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Raising kids with strong mental health

For mental health awareness week, I met Heather Rutherford for an instagram live Q&A. Heather runs The Parenting Partnership and is an old friend and colleague.

Heather and I have 7 children between us and have raised our children using gentle parenting with firm boundaries. We were talking about the importance of nurturing our children’s mental health from a young age 

As I always say to parents I work with, we need to think about parenting as the long game and know that laying the foundations for strong mental health and a strong self-belief is the best investment you can make for their future.

So here are the most important things we can do to nurture our kids mental health.

  1. Give them ways to help them become more independent – that could be by doing things for themselves like throwing a nappy in the bin, making their beds, pouring milk, making you a cup of tea – give them a safety briefing but after that don’t hover over them.

  2. Give them the strong message that ALL emotions are ok. Don’t try to protect them from negative emotions.  It’s good for them to experience disappointment, frustration, sadness over losing, feeling left out. If you help them to recover and realise that they can have an emotion and get over it, you are doing them a big service for building resilience.

  3. If they tell you they are ‘rubbish at football’ or ‘stupid’, don’t dismiss it. Say something like ‘Wow it can be really hard if you don’t feel like your feet work in the right way. Particularly if it seems like your friends are scoring the goals or do quicker passes’. You don’t have to agree but it is important to validate how they feel.

  4. Model problem-solving and working to improve yourself: ‘I really want to learn how to get better at making meringues as these ones came out really flat!’ or ‘My mental maths isn’t as sharp as it was, I’m going to do some practice’

  5. Model a positive attitude to life. Don’t moan about things in their earshot or feel sorry for yourself. Show them that even if you feel  down, you can bounce back.

  6. Talk about feelings a lot – both yours, yours when you were younger, their feelings, other children’s feelings. Read books about feelings and also when you are watching something with them on TV, discuss how the characters feel.

  7. Have a ritual at the end of the day to talk about what went well and what didn’t go so well – or it could be the highlights and the lowlights.

  8. Ask their opinion on things ‘Do you think we should go on a bike ride or a walk? – I like to hear your ideas’

  9. Let them make some decisions – you can give some choices within limits – like do you want to wear shorts or leggings? Porridge or toast but as much as possible let them make decisions.

  10. Let them fail at things – don’t jump to their rescue. Whether that’s a physical fail – they go to reach something and it falls off the shelf, a messy fail – they pour the milk and it spills, or you let them do something that is hard for them and they don’t get it in the beginning. Also talk about the mistakes you’ve made and how you’ve had to learn from your mistakes and failures.

I hope you find that helpful! Do follow me on Instagram  where I post frequently and have lots of really helpful IGTV interviews.

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