Protective Factors for Children's Mental Health - Part 2
The second factor important in helping children to have good mental health is the quality of our relationship with them. The special bond we have with our children works to our advantage and to our disadvantage at times. Our physical and emotional habits, our mannerisms, our preferences in food and fashion are all absorbed by the child as are our fears, worries, moods and crankiness. Children will copy our negative tendencies with the same ease as they do our good qualities. And this is all without words!
Our influence flows silently, as if by osmosis. In describing this effect, Carl Jung, Psychoanalyst, says children copy the qualities of their parents “just as wax takes up the imprint of the seal”. He says :”All parental difficulties reflect themselves without fail in the psyche of the child.”
In my own case, I found that all the anger, impatience and fear that was lying dormant (or I was pretending I didn’t have), sprang to life when I became a parent! I was determined not to pass these attributes on to the children so set about a programme over many years of self-improvement. Having had some good role models in my life, I understood the power of personal example and saw that it was easiest for the children if I could just be these qualities, rather than talk about their virtue!
In this regard, if you want to “depression-proof” your children, it is good to take a raincheck of your levels of stress, negativity, angry outbursts and frustration as they are affecting everyone around you. We devoted a chapter to Parents’ personal growth in our book The Focused Child if you are interested in learning more about this area of parenting.
The third factor that helps children feel secure and understood is communicating well with them - at their level. Many parents complain that when they try to initiate conversation with their child by asking: ‘How was your day?’ or ‘What’s wrong?’ all they get is a grunt or a ‘nothing!’ So direct questions often don’t draw children out in a way that gives us a window into their thinking or their concerns.
But young children’s lives are a lot simpler than ours – they don’t have a mortgage or challenges with ageing parents or worries about their tax! There are only about 5 sorts of issues children will worry about - a problem with their health, their friendships, school work or with the teacher or something at home. With my young son, chatting casually about his friends and what they were up to, or what maths was like today, always worked in drawing him out and it soon became clear what was troubling him. It is very helpful if a child feels you understand where they are at - especially when they are confused and troubled by lots of conflicting emotions. Being ready to listen when they feel like talking is a key here too. They often choose the most inconvenient times to really open up – with our teenagers the late, late evening hours when the house was very quiet was always a favourite time.