5 ways to support children's mental health

Posted on 06/27/24 02:53:pm 5 strategies to help kids stay mentally strong in summer


Share this article:

Summertime brings a break from the busy schedules of the school year. While many families look forward to the more relaxed pace of summer, with the newfound freedom comes the challenge of keeping kids mentally strong.

JohnFischer.JPG“School provides structure, which is something kids, and even parents, don’t always appreciate,” says John Fischer, clinical services supervisor at Rogers in West Allis. “School provides a routine that wraps around the entire day for most of the year. It helps kids understand when to go to bed, when to get up, and when to eat. To some extent, it keeps them engaged with people socially. It also gives them things to do, whether it’s homework, or extracurricular activities.”

John says while children may not value structure, it plays a critical role in maintaining their mental health.

“Structure provides a sense of stability, which gives kids a sense of purpose to their day,” he explains. “That’s really important. When we have structure, we understand what we're trying to do. We feel like what we're doing is meaningful, and it keeps our body in a healthy rhythm and routine, which typically is very good for us.”

Mental health problems

 Getting out of a routine can lead to unhealthy choices.

 “Over the summer, it’s very easy to sleep too much, too little, or at weird hours,” he says. “Diets can change, and kids can under or overeat. The basic activities of daily living all get disrupted in summer.”

 Also in summer, there are fewer adults watching behaviors.

“Teachers see little things that are easy to miss,” he says. “If my son or daughter had anxiety, or ADHD, that's much easier to pick up in a classroom environment than in a home environment. Mental health challenges can get neglected or overlooked entirely as well over the summer and could become bigger concerns.”

5 ways to support children's mental health

John recommends five things parents and caregivers can do to support children's mental health over the summer:

  1. Encourage a routine. Diet, sleep, and hygiene are all basic activities, but they’re important things to maintain.
  2. Pay attention to mood swings. Some kids have bigger mood swings. I would be concerned if they become more easily agitated or withdrawn.
  3. Keep screentime in check. While it’s true as kids get older they can take care of themselves for extended periods of time, it doesn’t mean they know, or are even willing to do what is healthy for them. Kids will happily scroll on their phones for hours, which puts them at risk for becoming addicted, and it prevents them from doing other important things. Let's be honest, today’s kids don't go door to door to play. They’re connected through social media. While I don't think taking phones away entirely is the answer, unchecked screen time and access isn’t good either. Agree as a family on what time limits and content are acceptable.
  4. Talk to your kids. I often hear parents say conversations are uncomfortable, or my kids know what they're doing, or they're good enough right now and I don't want to rock the boat. I think it's really important to sit down with your tween or teen and just talk with them. Say something like, “We all want to be physically, emotionally, and psychologically healthy as a family, so what can all of us commit to?” Healthy choices are good for everyone. What I usually encourage parents to do is to think of it as let's make a deal. Your kids want things - autonomy, friendships, and various freedoms. As parents, we want to give our kids what they want, but we can also ask for things in return.
  5. Allow older kids to make some decisions. The older they are, the more I recommend giving them the freedom to make some decisions. At some point, kids need to demonstrate that they have good judgment and take safe risks, so as they get older, they can be trusted to take bigger ones. We also don't want to give them total carte blanche to do whatever they want.

Often, I speak with parents who have many worries about raising their children - what they “should be doing” and how they compare as parents. I would encourage all parents to take a break from all the worries and focus on appreciating the moment you are in right now. Commit to dedicated time and activity as a family at least once per week, or as often as you can. Our time and our love to our children are the only things that really matter.

Rogers offers children's mental health services

Rogers offers compassionate treatment for children and teens in multiple levels of care. Call 800-767-4411 for a free, confidential screening.

Call 800-767-4411 or go to rogersbh.org to request a free screening.