Parenting and Mental Health
Mental health has immense impacts on all families, yet very few take it seriously, owing to the stigma attached to it within society. While trends are changing and more and more people are becoming more aware of their own mental states, there is still a long way to go. Little or no due regard is given to the moods, attitudes, insecurities, and general psychological well-being of family members with such conversations limited to between friends. However, the state of a parent’s mental health has stark ramifications on a child’s upbringing.
How do Parents Affect Their Children’s Mental Health?
Individuals who become parents while holding many unresolved feelings and tensions can unknowingly transfer a lot of baggage onto their children. A parent who doesn’t know how to deal with their negative emotions will fall short in helping their children process theirs. Furthermore, most mental illnesses such as Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder have a genetic component. This means that while a child may be born with the genes for a mental disorder, the neonatal and home environment can prevent the genes from ever manifesting, if the parents are aware and ready for this possibility.
Mentally unwell parents may find it very difficult to maintain a stable, fulfilling, and engaging relationship with their children. They might be unable to carry out simple chores like taking the child to the park or listening to their children vent as they try to escape their own emotions rather than processing them in healthy ways such as Cognitive Behavioral therapy. Similarly, when one or both parents are mentally unwell or stressed, there are higher chances of parents fighting which has adverse effects on the child’s mental health. Unresolved and repressed negative feelings always have a way of manifesting, no matter how hard you try to bottle them in, and the spillover effects include anger and irritability towards unrelated factors. An example of this could be getting angry at your baby for spilling something accidentally, while being stressed about work or harboring unresolved anger towards a spouse.
A very large percentage of women undergo Post-Partum Depression as their hormone levels drop after giving birth. This is an extremely common symptom of childbirth that is mostly overlooked. If it occurs for baby number 2 or 3, chances are they will be greatly affected by their mother’s crying spells, sluggishness, lethargy and anxiety. This is the time that fathers really need to step up and be there for their children and their partner.
In the midst of this pandemic, the constant threat of coronavirus has worsened parents’ mental health. They remain highly stressed and worried due to economic and health concerns. Furthermore, working at home with schools shut off increases the risk of parent-child confrontations as well. What a lot of parents forget is that, children too are impacted by the coronavirus. Their school and extracurricular routines are disrupted with their bustling personalities confined to their homes. These are trying times and being more aware and proactive of your own mental space can do wonders for your relationship with your child and their own personal mental health.
How Can Parents Support Their Child’s Mental Health?
The first and most important thing a parent can do for their child is to take care of themselves. After all, happy parents make for happy children. Go in for a diagnosis if you suspect you or someone in your family has a history of mental illnesses. Read up on the most common ones, such as anxiety and depression and come up with healthy coping strategies to manage symptoms. Once an issue is recognized and confirmed, parents must be highly adaptable and flexible in providing the utmost comfort and stability to their children.
Make the home environment a stable and safe space for your child to be entirely themselves. Make sure that they know your love is unconditional and that they are heard and seen by you. One common practice to avoid is to stop talking to your children when you are upset at them. This is known as withdrawal of love and often leads to a lot of anxiety for a child. Furthermore, the child doesn’t learn his/her mistake, but rather withdraws into a shell. Far too often, parents brush aside their children’s concerns and issues. Thus, it is imperative that children feel at ease discussing all their insecurities, fears, and troubles with their parents without fear of judgement or punishment.