Supporting mental health in young children
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on kids of all ages,
but even little kids can learn how to cope with mental health
challenges. Here are some tips on helping young children manage
big emotions and build confidence.
HELPING KIDS COPE
• Validate and name feelings. It’s important for little kids to know that big
emotions are normal and manageable. When they’re upset, let them know
that you hear them: “It sounds like you’re really angry right now. I feel that
way sometimes too.”
• Solve problems together. Talk over what’s bothering them and brainstorm
solutions, instead of just telling them what you think they should do. To get
kids talking, lead with curiosity and ask open-ended questions: “What was
the most fun you had today? What was the toughest part?”
• Model managing difficult feelings. If your child sees you angry, nervous or
scared, bring them into the conversation. Tell them what you’re feeling, why,
and how you’re going to handle it. This helps them learn to do the same.
• Use positive attention. When your child takes a step (even a small one!) to
cope with a hard emotion, praise them right away. For instance, if you see
your child take a deep breath in the middle of a tantrum, jump in: “I like
that you took a deep breath! Let’s take another one together.”
• Set aside special time together. Pick a time each day when your child will
get your undivided attention for whatever activity they choose. Knowing
they have that to look forward to will strengthen your bond and help them
handle stress. Even five minutes makes a big difference!
BUILDING CONFIDENCE AND SELF-ESTEEM
• Praise perseverance. Praise kids for their efforts (“Nice job practicing
for the whole fifteen minutes!”) as much as their accomplishments. This
helps them internalize that their work matters and that they don’t need
to be perfect.
• Encourage their interests. Whatever hobby or activity your child is into,
support them in pursuing it. Following their passions helps kids develop
a sense of identity and build skills that translate into confidence.
• Model positive self-talk. Try to avoid criticizing yourself in front of your
child. You can even show kids how to correct critical thoughts in real time:
“I called myself stupid when I forgot the keys, but I know I’m pretty smart
most of the time. Forgetting something from time to time isn’t a big deal.”
• Show the love. Let your child know that you think they’re great, whether
or not they do great things. That means lots of affection and affirmation
when they win, when they lose, and even when they drive you nuts.
• Look out for signs of a bigger problem. If your child has consistently low
self-esteem that doesn’t improve over time and gets in the way of their
daily life, consider getting support from a mental health professional.