Posted on: 22.01.2021.
Lately, we have been facing traumatic events that affect us all. The global and still ongoing pandemic has gripped the world. Inevitably, such an extraordinary situation affects mental health, especially those with reduced mental stability.
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Adult behaviour greatly affects children’s experience of stress as well as their behaviour and adjustment. These situations are a real test for our psyche and an indicator showing whether there is room for improving our own mental health, an indicator showing whether we maintain our mental hygiene regularly and teach our child to maintain his or her mental hygiene.
Mental hygiene reflects in adequate maintenance of personal psychological constructs such as self-confidence, communication, social relations and the like. In general, properly maintained mental hygiene results in personal satisfaction, encourages good feelings while eliminating factors that could potentially lead to deterioration in quality of life or mental illness.
In these specific situations, there are several ways to properly develop your child's emotional development and teach him or her to maintain the aforementioned mental hygiene.
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As mentioned at the outset, parents have the greatest influence on a child's behaviour - they influence the child's development of appropriate or inappropriate defence mechanisms and, in general, how the child will develop mentally. If a parent in stressful situations expresses a high level of fear and anxiety, the child may feel insecure since the person who should protect and take care for him or her is not well, and in addition, the child might learn and adopt such behaviours in similar situations.
Of course, it is okay if you as a parent are sometimes scared and it is very okay to show those emotions, to communicate them with the child. Fear is a normal reaction to danger, but it becomes pathological if it progresses to frequent anxiety and worry about uncertainty.
If you feel unsure about your own actions and your own mental stability, there is nothing wrong with seeking the advice of a psychologist or psychotherapist.
Keep in mind that preschoolers think in a way as if the world revolves around them, which means that if something bad happens, they feel guilty about it. For example, my Mom is sad because I didn’t clean up the table as soon as she asked me to. Or, Dad is mad at Mom because I didn’t go to bed on time yesterday. Or, maybe we were hit by an earthquake because this year I was often naughty. It is very important to explain to the child what is happening in the world and, depending on their developmental stage, to adjust the communication and details. But it is important for children to have accurate information and it is desirable to hear it from you.
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If your child shows you fear, shame, or sadness, by no means diminish his or her feelings. Parents can do it unconsciously, wanting to help and make the child feel better as soon as possible, so they often say:
"It's nothing,you'll stop being afraid very soon."
"Big boys aren't afraid."
"I've never been afraid of that; you shouldn't be either."
"You don't need to be sad about it, it's normal."
This kind of communication diminishes the child's value, the child feels ashamed of those feelings and consequently stops to verbalize his or her emotions.
Instead of such communication, try to approach your child showing interest, understanding and empathy.
“What scared you? What else are you afraid of?”
"It's okay to feel fear, tell me more about how you feel."
“Can you describe me your fear? ... I remember, when I used to be afraid, I experienced it as...”
"Sadness is also a valuable emotion that shows that we care about something. I'm sorry you're sad, maybe crying will help."
These are only some ways of maintaining a child’s mental hygiene during current traumatic situations.
Written by: Monika Melnjak, mag.psych.