As a father of two children and a clinical psychologist, people often ask me for suggestions to ensure good mental health for their children. In many ways, the adage of “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is true, and there are many things that we as parents can do to support good mental health in our children.
1. Be a parent to your child. The roles of influence in a child’s life can be thought of as circles. Some people in your child’s life fulfill the role of a teacher, and so occupy that circle. Others may be charged with being a coach or a “drill sergeant”, and so occupy those circles. As parents, our circle may at times overlap with the teacher or coach, but there is a significant part of our particular “circle” or role that no one else in our child’s life can fulfill. So, if necessary, let someone else take the role of the teacher, and take the time and effort necessary to discover what it means to fulfill the role of a parent.
2. Protect your relationship with your child. Being a parent is difficult; we worry about our children’s health, mental development, social development, education, and so much more. But oftentimes our worry for our children can result in unhealthy pressure to perform. Don’t let your worry about grades or achievements negatively affect your relationship with your child. Let them know clearly, through words and actions, that though you would like them to do well, at the end of the day you will love them just the same. Your love for them does not depend on grades, performance, or on anything else – it’s simply given to them. In my career, no adult patient has ever come before me and said, “You know what my problem is doc? I didn’t get good enough grades as a kid.” Oftentimes, difficulties in adulthood result from difficulties in family relationships.
3. Be an example to your children. When I say this, I don’t mean “Be the paragon of perfection.” It can be beneficial for our children to see our reactions to our own mistakes. We can be positive role models when we demonstrate that mature adults own up to our shortcomings, apologize for our mistakes, and strive to do better.
4. Validate their experience. Parents often come to me and ask how they can influence their child to change in some way. This is especially true of parents of teens. Oftentimes, we can influence our children when they know that we are on their side. This may mean that we need to control the temptation to be overly critical, and instead just listen to what they have to say. Use positive reinforcement or present your perspective (if necessary) without applying pressure or criticizing their lack of maturity.
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Dr. George Hu is a clinical psychologist at Beijing United Family Hospital. He has worked extensively on issues such as adjustment, relationships, and stress. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on page 25 of the beijingkids September 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.