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Mentally healthy kids

BY ANIKA RICHARDS

Sunday, May 25, 2014    

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MENTAL health, according to Clinical Psychologist Patrice Whitehorne-Smith, has to do with how we think, how we feel about ourselves and others, how well we cope with the stresses of daily life and life changes.

We are always thinking and our thoughts may be positive or negative.

Whitehorne-Smith, who was one of the speakers on Wednesday, May 9 at the children symposium on "disability, equality and acceptability" dubbed HUSH, put on by the Institute of Jamaica's Junior Centre in collaboration with the Nathan Ebanks Foundation, explained that positive thinking is about choosing to pay attention to the positive thoughts, dismissing the negative thoughts, and reacting appropriately to all thoughts.

"What you think about, affects how you feel and determines how you act," said Whitehorne-Smith.

Children are no different. Here are some tips from the clinical psychologist on promoting good mental health in kids.

1. Create a sense of belonging

Feeling connected and welcomed is essential to children's positive adjustment, self-identification, and sense of trust in others and themselves.

2. Promote resilience

Adversity is a natural part of life. Teach children to overcome challenges. We build resilience by encouraging connectedness, competency, helping others, and successfully facing difficult situations can foster resilience.

3. Develop competencies

Children need to know that they can overcome challenges and accomplish goals through their actions. Achieving academic success and developing individual talents and interests help children feel competent and more able to deal with stress positively. Social competency is also important. Having friends and staying connected to friends and loved ones can enhance mental wellness.

4. Teach and reinforce positive behaviors and decision-making

Provide consistent expectations and support. Teaching children social skills, problem-solving, and conflict resolution supports good mental health. "Catch" them being successful. Positive feedback validates and reinforces behaviours or accomplishments that are valued by others.

5. Encourage helping others

Children need to know that they can make a difference. Pro-social behaviours build self-esteem, foster connectedness, reinforce personal responsibility, and present opportunities for positive recognition.

6. Encourage good physical health

Good physical health supports good mental health. Healthy eating habits, regular exercise and adequate sleep protect kids against the stress of tough situations. Regular exercise also decreases negative emotions such as anxiety, anger and depression.

7. Educate staff, parents and students on symptoms of and help for mental health problems

Information helps break down the stigma surrounding mental health and enables adults and students recognise when to seek help.

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