7 Tips for Dads of Daughters
If you’re a father or a stepfather, I’m going to ask you to do one thing today. One. This one thing is for the little girl in your life. Whether she’s a baby, is “toddlering” around the house, navigating middle school, working on a college degree, or has started a family of her own: It doesn’t matter. She’ll always be your little girl.
You know the saying: A son is a son ‘til he gets a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for the rest of her life.
I recently read something by Mat Johnson that was so profound it froze me in my tracks. I had to sit down and let it sink in. (Full Disclosure: I was already seated. But the rest is absolutely accurate.) Mat is a professor and prize-winning author of fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels. He is also the father of two little girls. Here’s what he said that hit me like a ton of bricks:
A man’s daughter is his heart. Just with feet, walking out in the world.
That’s powerful stuff. I don’t know how much Mat is into family research, but in just 14 words, he encapsulated decades of studies on the impact a father has on his daughter’s life. It’s worth breaking down and looking a little deeper.
A Man’s Daughter Is His Heart…
I’m about to share a bunch o’ findings from a bunch o’ research. (I’ll link to it at the end for your perusal.)
First, understand that you’re always directly or indirectly impacting your daughter. She’s watching, listening, and taking mental notes. (Like, how does Dad treat Mom, me, and other women?) Remember: It’s not about just being around. The goal is to actively engage with your daughter from birth onward.
Daughters who have a dynamic, secure, warm, comfortable, conversational, and loving relationship with their father gain all sorts of advantages they carry throughout their lives. Your life is molding hers.
…Just With Feet, Walking Out In This World.
What dad doesn’t want these things for their daughter?
Actively engaged fathers help their daughters become more:
- Intellectually developed – from IQ to better grades in school.
- Confident and assertive. (And more likely to feel better about themselves.)
- Likely to pursue higher education.
- Likely to have higher career achievement & have a higher-paying job.
- Likely to experience better emotional & mental health.
- Likely to have healthy romantic relationships up to, and including, marriage.
⇨ Your Relationship With (Your Wife) And Daughter Also Provides A Critical Buffer ⇦
Daughters with actively involved fathers are less likely to:
- Develop eating disorders and a poor self-image.
- Engage in “delinquent” behavior as an adolescent.
- Become pregnant as a teenager.
- Experience dating violence or be coerced into sex.
- Be resilient and navigate obstacles & stressful situations.
How do you get started? According to research, technically, it begins with being present and involved in your daughter’s birth. (You’re probably past that.) Check out these pointers on being a great girl dad for an infant or toddler.
Keep these general principles in mind:
- Listen to girls. What are your daughter’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings and dreams? Don’t just focus on how she looks. Make sure she knows she’s beautiful and valuable on the inside, too.
- Encourage her strength and celebrate her savvy. Help your daughter learn to recognize, resist and overcome barriers. Help her develop her strengths to achieve her goals.
- Respect her uniqueness. Urge her to love her body and discourage dieting. Make sure your daughter knows that you love her for who she is. See her as a whole person capable of doing anything. Treat her and those she loves with respect.
- Get physically active with her. Play catch, tag, jump rope, basketball or go for walks. Studies show that physically active girls have fathers who are active with them.
- Involve yourself in your daughter’s activities. Volunteer to drive, coach or host.
- Talk to other fathers. There’s a lot you can learn from each other.
- Help make the world better for girls. One time, while I was walking through the mall with my teenage daughter, I made a point of watching the eyes of the people we passed. It was disturbing. This world holds dangers for our daughters. Overprotection doesn’t work. Make sure your daughter is over-prepared to navigate the world.
So, what’s the one practical thing you’re going to do today to work on bonding and building up your daughter? Even if you don’t live with your daughter, you still make a difference.
Dads, we can’t do it all in one day, but we can do that one thing today, then one other thing tomorrow. Our daughters need us for the rest of their lives.
- American Psychological Association: Father-Daughter Physical Activity Programs
- Direct and Indirect Effects of Father-Daughter Relationship on Adolescent Girls’ Psychological Outcomes: The Role of Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction – ScienceDirect
- Father Involvement, Dating Violence, and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among a National Sample of Adolescent Females
- The Influence of a Father on a Daughter’s College Decision
- Talking to Daddy’s Little Girl About Sex: Daughters’ Reports of Sexual Communication and Support From Fathers
- How Dads Affect Their Daughters Into Adulthood | Institute for Family Studies
- Strengthening Father-Daughter Relationships
How To Be The Best Dad For Your Daughter – First Things First
5 Steps I Took to Be a Better Dad – First Things First
What All Daughters Need to Hear From Their Dad – First Things First
7 Ways to Embrace Being a #girldad – First Things First
The Encouraging Science of Fatherhood and the ‘Father Effect’
How to Find a Good Counselor for Your Child
Imagine being an 8-year-old and dealing with all the stuff they are dealing with today. As a parent, you can see something’s just off with your child. Maybe your kid’s teacher, guidance counselor, or some other adult in their life has noticed it. And now you’ve decided to take the brave step of finding a counselor for your child. Because you care so much, not just any counselor or therapist will do: you want to find a good one.
Here are some tips on finding a good counselor.
Don’t be shy to ask your network of people you know.
Ask your child’s pediatrician and talk to the school guidance counselor. Mention it to church youth workers. Definitely ask your friends. You may find out that more people have experience with child counselors than you thought. However, when you ask, be sure to ask what makes their recommended counselor good. I mean, just because they know the counselor doesn’t mean they are a good counselor. Or that he or she is the right one for your child.
Dr. Christina McCroskey says she and other pediatricians often hear from parents about which counselors are effective. Your child’s doctor may also have a better idea of what type of care your child may need.
Figure out all the letters.
MD, Ph.D., LMFT, LCSW, MSW, LPC. You’ve heard the terms psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, family counselors, therapists, etc. It can be overwhelming when you’re starting from scratch. Here’s a good list of different designations for mental health professionals. Like I said, your pediatrician can help you choose what your child needs. That’s a great place to start.
Gather your thoughts and be specific.
Whether someone recommended counseling or you’ve decided to go this route on your own, take some time to write down your concerns about your child and any potential triggers. It’s easy to get nervous on the spot and forget critical details. Writing it down can help you accurately communicate your concerns.
Ask around about counselors. Get on the internet and read their credentials, articles, or blogs they may have written. Check out their social media accounts. Find out how much experience they have. Learn what their areas of concentration are. You want someone who’s experienced working with children, not just counseling people in general.
Interview Potential Counselors One-On-One.
Good counselors should be used to being vetted to determine if they’re the best fit. You can do this in person or by phone, and maybe even through Zoom. If they are resistant and try to rush you to an appointment, move on to another counselor.
When you talk to them, ask…
- About their experience working with children.
- What methods they have used with children in their practice.
- How the parents are included in the process.
- How they differentiate between medical conditions and behavior issues.
- If they have a particular specialty.
- What they do to stay current in their practice.
Questions to ask yourself afterward:
- How did I feel after talking to them? Did I feel inspired, hopeful, and encouraged? You can speak to some counselors and feel like they are life-giving while others are so heavy and gloomy.
- Did I feel heard and understood? Were they genuinely listening to me or quick to diagnose and tell me what we needed?
- Were they empathetic?
- How would my child receive them? You know your child well. There’s a good chance that if you didn’t feel like they connected well, they might not connect well with your child.
- Is this person truly an advocate for the family?
Listen to your gut.
It’s ok for you to talk to multiple counselors until you find one that just feels right. I wouldn’t introduce the child to the counselor until you’ve chosen one.
Schedule a consultation.
Many counselors will schedule a one-hour consultation with new clients before asking you to commit your hard-earned dollars to their practice. If so, use this opportunity to learn more before you make a choice.
“As adults, it’s important not to assume that our youth can handle emotions. If we as adults struggle (with a fully developed brain), imagine the difficulty our youth are having with a developing brain and body,” says psychiatrist Dr. Cassandra Simms:
By taking your time, practicing patience, and showing due diligence, you are the best person to identify who can best help your child. Demonstrating your strong love by getting your child the help they need will be something that will pay off for years to come.
Other helpful blogs:
How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them
How to Prevent Depression from Affecting Your Child
5 Ways Positive Parenting Creates a Lifelong Connection with Your Child
The goal of positive parenting is to build a deep, lifelong connection with your child. It’s the idea that while our primary role as parents may end when our children move out, we’re still a guiding presence in their lives. I don’t want to parent my children once they’ve stepped out on their own, but I do want to be there as a source of wisdom, support, and guidance when needed.
Being a positive parent is about nurturing, empowering, and guiding while being nonviolent. You may be asking yourself, “Am I a positive parent?” I know I want to be.
There are several key components to positive parenting. A positive parent:
- Guides, leads, and teaches.
- Is caring, empowering, consistent, and sensitive to a child’s needs.
- Provides regular open communication, emotional security, and affection.
- Recognizes the positive.
- Respects the child’s developmental stage.
- Sets boundaries and rewards accomplishments.
- Shows empathy for the child’s feelings and supports the child’s best interests.
According to author L.R. Knost, “respecting children teaches them that even the smallest, most powerless, most vulnerable person deserves respect, and that is a lesson our world desperately needs to learn.”
Here are some ways being a positive parent can create a lifelong connection with your child:
1. Teach them how to do age-appropriate tasks.
When I ask my kids to do something around the house, and they say, “I don’t know how,” I hear a teaching opportunity. It can be hard to slow down, but helping them learn how to do something new builds their confidence. When you teach them, they’re also learning how to make good choices. When we don’t teach, they become reliant on us or others to do things for them.
2. Give them autonomy (within reason, of course).
Let’s talk about parenting toddlers. If you aren’t there yet, just hang on and get ready for some exciting years. Between the ages of 2-5, both my kids pushed for independence and autonomy. They wanted to be the king or queen of their own world. Aren’t we the same? We don’t want other people running our lives. Look for opportunities to give your child autonomy. Put them in charge of a household chore, let them choose dinner one night, or let them choose their clothes. There’s nothing like going to Lowe’s when your daughter’s in her entire ladybug outfit…been there recently and have the pictures to remember it. Giving them independence promotes creativity, empowerment, and self-determination.
3. Reward positive effort, regardless of the outcome.
I’ve often heard it said, “What gets recognized, gets repeated.” My son just wrapped up a great baseball season and finished the third grade. However, he did have bad games and some weeks where he didn’t do well on assignments, but we didn’t punish him for those times, we rewarded him for his effort. We took him to a local baseball card store. He’s totally into baseball cards right now, so we let him choose a box of cards. We encouraged him to always do his best and understand that sometimes bad days and failures will happen. He knows his effort is what it takes to be rewarded, and he’ll work hard to do his best in every situation.
4. Be a positive role model.
Your children are listening and watching. Remember, more is caught than taught. They see how we treat others, our work ethic, and our kindness or the lack of it. If you want to raise adults who positively contribute to society and care about their neighbors, you’ve got to model that behavior now.
5. Make positive family experiences a priority.
Our kids don’t need extravagance; they need us to create memories with them. I can’t count the number of times my daughter brings up something seemingly small we’ve done as a family. To her, it was impactful. Take a neighborhood walk together, get ice cream after school, or do something for someone else. When we prioritize creating positive memories as a parent, we’re building a lifelong connection with them.
Parenting is challenging, but connecting with your child doesn’t have to be. Be caring, teach, lead, communicate, and provide. Take steps today to build a lifelong connection with your child as a positive parent.
Other helpful blogs:
How Positive Parenting Impacts a Child’s Risk of Substance Abuse
100 Conversation Starters To Increase Your Family’s Connectedness
Five Simple Things You Can Do To Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Child
How Positive Parenting Impacts a Child’s Risk of Substance Abuse
Being a parent comes with great responsibility. It’s our duty and privilege to shape the next generation to be healthy and thriving. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. And there are positive parenting things we can do for our little ones now that will help prepare them to make good decisions, feel confident, and avoid creating bad habits like substance abuse in the future.
A study by the University of Otago in New Zealand has found that positive parenting can have numerous positive benefits for children. A team led by Professor Joe Boden analyzed data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study, which has followed the lives of more than 1000 people born in Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1977.
Before we go too deep here, let’s answer the question, “What is positive parenting?”
Positive parenting focuses on encouragement and support rather than punishment to teach appropriate behavior. Psychology Today links positive parenting to “higher school grades, fewer behavior problems, less substance abuse, better mental health, greater social competence, and more positive self-concepts.”
Professor Boden’s team found that adolescents living in a more positive environment:
- Had lower alcohol and substance abuse rates.
- Experienced fewer mental health issues and less general stress.
- Were less likely to experience unemployment.
The Christchurch Study provided extensive information about the participants’ lives, including:
- Their exposure to violence and substance issues.
- How they perceived their parents’ parenting style.
- Alcohol use and abuse scores at specific ages.
- The impact of parenting style on alcoholism.
The team was especially interested in the correlation between positive parenting and a lesser risk of alcoholism. The study shows that parenting style could be far more impactful in people’s tendency toward alcohol or other substances than having access to it.
Several studies have shown that positive parenting has even more far-reaching effects.
Here are some ways that you can be a positive parent:
Build strong bonds.
Strong emotional bonds help create a safe base for kids to learn, explore, and relate to others. Experts call this “secure attachment.” Securely attached kids are more likely to handle challenges positively and learn how to manage their feelings and behaviors, and develop self-confidence. Through positive engagement with parents, kids learn to follow the rules and regulate their emotions.
Life is full of distractions from numerous priorities, extra work, and technology. When we’re emotionally and physically available to our kids, this helps them bond, develop language skills, and learn to interact socially. We need to communicate that our kids are valuable and important with our time. When we are stretched for time, we must take a moment and explain to our kids why we can’t spend the time with them that we’d like — and express that we don’t value them any less and will be more available to them soon.
Establish mutual respect.
Mutual respect is a cornerstone of positive parenting. Parents help kids understand why rules are made. When children understand the why for rules, they’re more willing to follow them. It can also help parents understand any misbehavior. Because of a stronger bond, parents are more likely to notice stressors impacting their children. Through this, parents and kids can learn to be more empathetic and better understand others.
Be a positive role model.
One huge rule of parenting is, “More is caught than taught.” We’ve all heard that phrase, but it’s the essence of parenting. If we respond to our kids in frustration and negativity, they’ll do the same to others and to us. How we respond to our kids’ challenging behaviors really does teach them how to react to others. Research shows that parental modeling impacts behaviors associated with alcohol and substance abuse.
Build higher self-esteem.
Positive parenting says there are no bad children, just good and bad behaviors. The focus is on learning for the future. Instead of yelling when a child misbehaves, a positive parent responds calmly, explaining why the behavior isn’t acceptable and what the consequences are. This process helps a child learn to make better choices down the road. Mistakes are learning opportunities for all of us.
By being positive parents, we can equip our children with the skills they need for future success. We can teach them to make wise decisions. And, we can help them avoid pitfalls along the way. If you don’t see yourself as a positive parent, it’s never too late to start.
Other helpful blogs:
How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent
How To Encourage Your Child’s Strengths
Why Do Secure Relationships Matter for Children?
6 Things You Can Do to Help a Child Who Is Grieving the Death of a Parent
Death is often a difficult topic to discuss. It’s even more challenging to consider how you can help a child through the death of a parent. No matter what age, the death of a parent shifts your foundation. Therefore, it’s even more critical to find ways to support and help a child grieving the death of a parent.
Parents provide safety and security for their children. After a parent dies, the child’s needs may vary according to their age, maturity, and personality. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to grief. These children have unique needs that should be met.
Here are 6 things you can do to help a child who is grieving the death of a parent:
1. Be aware of your own grief and emotions.
It’s not easy to help a child through grief if you don’t acknowledge and work through your own. Grief is the process through which you deal with a loss. In this case, a friend or loved one died and left a child or children behind. Recognizing this allows you to process your grief so you don’t unintentionally make this loss only about you.
2. Be careful how you communicate with the child.
Because people tend to be uncomfortable talking about death, they often use well-intentioned phrases that do more harm than good. Sayings like:
“They are in a better place.”
“They just went to sleep.”
“One day, you will get over this.”
While you may mean well, think carefully about saying something just to say something. You may even need to listen more than you talk.
3. Be prepared for the child to express a variety of behaviors.
Children can display so many emotions after their parent dies, including fear, sadness, or anger. They may experience separation anxiety when away from the surviving parent or caregivers. Additionally, they may experience the following regressive behaviors, including using baby talk, bedwetting, or waking in the middle of the night. Stomachaches may become common complaints. Eating habits may change also. It’s essential to be aware of the frequency and intensity of any behavioral changes.
4. Be age-appropriately honest with them.
Children often have questions after the death of a parent. How did it happen? Is it gonna happen to you? Is it gonna happen to them? First, talk with their surviving parent to find out what they shared with the child. That can prepare you to answer questions within the framework they’ve established. Honesty is vital. Your honest answers help rebuild trust and security. In your desire to help, consistency and reliability are essential, too. You want to under-promise and over-deliver rather than over-promise and underdeliver. Do everything you can to follow through with what you say you will do.
5. Be award that grief is an ongoing process.
Many people come around in the immediate aftermath. However, the kids will need you for the long haul. The hard truth is that a child never gets over the death of a parent or stops grieving their loss, though the experience of grief may morph over time. Kids may seem to bounce back from the loss. As a result, we want to believe that children are resilient and won’t be affected long-term. As comforting as this might sound, unfortunately, it’s not true. The intensity may lessen over time, but the parent they lost won’t be there for life milestones (i.e., Birthdays, Holidays, Proms, Graduations, Weddings).
6. Be proactive in helping the child find ways to remember their parent.
Some people think that remembering a parent who died causes children pain. Attempting to minimize the pain, people often decide to remove photos or rarely mention or discuss the parent. On the contrary, remembering helps with the grieving process. Memories give a child a picture of who their parent was, what they liked, and how they lived.
Losing a parent can be one of the most challenging things a child (or even an adult) can experience. The adults in the child’s life are essential to help them grieve in a healthy way. As you journey with them, be a listening ear, a safe place to land, and a consistent presence in their lives.
Other helpful resources:
What to Do When Your Child’s Marriage is Falling Apart
Every parent wants to see their children grow to live happy and successful lives. This is why it can be difficult to watch from the sidelines as their marriage is falling apart. Many parents have stayed up at night trying to think of how they can best help their adult children, or even if they should help at all.
Determining what you should and shouldn’t do can be tricky. A lot depends on the nature of your relationship with your adult child and their spouse. What permission have they given you to speak into their marriage?
In matters that may involve abuse, violence, or anything that threatens personal safety, take swift action to ensure everyone is safe. *The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1−800−799−SAFE(7233)
However, if, by “falling apart” you mean issues such as an inability to communicate or connect in any meaningful way, growing distant, despising each other, constant arguing, or pure self-centeredness by one or both people, then this is for you.
What can you do about it?
- Know your limits. You will always be a parent to your child. Pam Johnson, marriage therapist, says, “You know them as a child, but not as a spouse.” Without being married to that individual, you can’t know the fullness of their experience.
- Encourage them to work on their relationship. Give your adult child some things to think about when selecting a marriage counselor. Suggesting a marriage counselor you have a strong relationship with may not be the best move, especially if you’re concerned the counselor won’t be objective because of the familiarity.
- Set boundaries… Particularly for what you will and won’t listen to. Johnson encourages parents to avoid conversations that would make it difficult to forgive their child’s spouse. Often the adult child is sharing their perspective because they want you to take sides. It would be helpful to say, “You need to share that, but it’s best for you and your marriage for you to share with an objective third party.” As much as you want to be unbiased, the emotional closeness between you and your child can drive a bigger wedge in the marriage.
- Support their relationship and them getting help. You might babysit to give your child and their spouse time alone, help pay for marriage counseling or do other things that strengthen their relationship. Tell them about Maximize Your Marriage.
- Encourage them to be adults about their situation. In other words, encourage them to give all they can to work it out, hear and understand one another, and learn to be a team.
A few don’ts:
- Avoid deciding you know best. Should they stay together? Should they divorce? That’s not the question you need to answer for them. And likely, they won’t let you answer it for them anyway.
- Don’t make it easy for them to give up. As I mentioned earlier, with safety and health issues, help them get into a safe situation. But for many other instances, Johnson notes that making it easy for your child to leave their marriage and come home and stay with you isn’t helpful.
- Don’t counsel. Expert counselors often won’t even give advice about their child’s marriage. It’s so easy for emotions to get involved.
- Don’t take sides. There are always two sides. Encourage them to do all they can to clearly understand each other’s perspectives.
- Don’t try to control. You can’t control their thoughts, actions, or intentions. Even when we see the mistakes they may be making, we have to allow them to be adults and make their own decisions.
Our children will inevitably make decisions that we disagree with and mistakes that could’ve been avoided. Ultimately, just like the coach has to allow their players to make the plays on the field, our kids have to make their plays in life. To love, accept, encourage, and give them space (even if you disagree with them) may be the secret to having the positive impact you desire.
Other helpful resources (to help you help them):
- Should You Tell Your Friends and Family About Your Marital Problems?
- How to Find Good Relationship Advice
- How to Fight in Front of the Kids
- First Things First
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
How to Deal with the Terrible Twos
From the moment you announce your pregnancy, it seems like everyone offers you parenting advice. You’re inundated with opinions about everything from sleeping and the right kinds of diapers to preparing you for the terrible twos. (By the way, that actually lasts from 18 months until about 3. You’re welcome.)
Actually, I believe there’s no such thing as the terrible twos. I call this age a “magical time” when many developmental leaps take place. It’s a time of significant growth and development for you and your child.
The time between 2 and 4 is foundational as kids change physically, emotionally, and intellectually. They’re also learning and becoming their own person. It’s a time to look forward to and anticipate because the skill developments in this timeframe benefit you AND your child.
Here are a few things to remember as you deal with this “magical time.”
This is a necessary stage of growth and development.
I had a friend who shared that when their child was in this stage, they believed they did something to “break” their child. Gone was the calm, sweet infant they brought home. It seemed to happen overnight.
I could bore you with all the human growth and development theories, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, this stage of development is necessary and expected. Yes, they have tantrums and cry. But it’s usually because they don’t have the words to effectively communicate what they want or how they feel. Plus, they don’t have the skills to control their emotions. This is when the magic happens.
As a parent, you get the privilege of teaching your child how to recognize emotions and effectively communicate them to you.
Choose your battles wisely.
It’s critical to decide what’s truly important versus what you can let go of during this time. Part of the magic is setting appropriate boundaries. Everything doesn’t have to be a fight or power struggle. Remember, you are the authority, so no need to struggle.
For example, safety is paramount. Things like holding hands while walking in a parking lot are NON-NEGOTIABLE. Other things, you may choose not to fight. Mismatched socks or wearing a Christmas sweater in May shouldn’t ruffle your feathers.
Try to prevent bombarding yourself with thoughts about how something makes you look to others. This is about you and your child growing and learning together. You may need to create a saying to remind you that this phase is necessary for growth and becoming the person they were made to be.
This “magical time” lays the foundation for your future.
It may be hard to believe that your child will one day be a teenager or adult. You may be wondering, “Why are you talking about the future when I’m struggling in the present?” Believe it or not, your present struggle is preparing you for the future by developing your character, strength, and skills as a parent.
MAGICAL TIME teaches you skills like:
- Staying calm in a crisis or the middle of the toy aisle when your child is pitching a fit
- What works best for your particular child
- How to guide rather than dictate or control (because can you really control anyone?)
MAGICAL TIME teaches your child skills like:
- How to identify and regulate emotions
- How to make decisions (age-appropriate)
- Independence and autonomy
- How to speak for themselves
As you’re learning and growing, your child may still cry, yell and throw tantrums.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
You aren’t the only parent who has gone through this.
More importantly, you aren’t the worst parent in the world. In reality, you are learning new skills. So, give yourself a break!
Through these words of encouragement, I’m not trying to blow smoke or try to make it seem like magical time is without challenges or some tears from both of you.
Yes, it can be challenging, frustrating, and feel never-ending. But no matter what, it will be worth it. You’ll learn about yourself and how to be the parent your child needs. You get to choose how to see this time. Will you see it as magical or terrible?
Other helpful blogs:
How to Prevent Depression from Affecting Your Child
I was a depressed child.
It’s sort of a long story. But that part of my life prompted me to better understand mental health and how to prevent issues with depression, especially when it came to my own kids.
Because let’s face it—when our children hurt, we hurt.
And there’s a certain balance we have to strike as parents: we have to understand there is always the possibility for depression to rear its ugly head in our kids, while at the same time remembering there are practical ways to decrease the likelihood that it will.
I want to give you three skills you can teach your children.
Skill #1: Know Thyself.
As parents, it’s good to understand some of the risk factors involved with depression in children:
- There is a history of depression or other emotional struggles in the immediate family.
- The child experienced any earlier traumas or chronic illness.
- There is substance or alcohol abuse in the family.
These factors increase the chances that a child could experience struggles with depression.
No need to freak out here. Nor is there reason to try and diagnose anything. We simply need to be aware of the possibility and let that motivate our diligence to maintain good mental health in both our kids and us.
It’s good for younger kids to begin to understand their feelings. Help your child put a name to their emotions. Feelings are still a new thing for kids. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat with my own children, talking out just what it was they were feeling inside: I’m not mad, maybe a little sad, kind of embarrassed, but I’m not sure.
When your child can name feelings, they can begin to manage them.
Skill #2: Care for yourself.
The Big-3 of self-care practices are sleep, exercise, and diet.
Be sure your kids are getting plenty of rest at night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-11 hours of sleep each night for 6 to 13-year-olds.
Kids also need plenty of physical activity and outside time. This is important for physical and brain development that directly affects emotional regulation. Sunshine boosts serotonin in the brain, which counteracts depressive states.
Avoiding processed sugars and having a cleaner diet also helps kids regulate their moods while improving sleep quality and activity levels.
Skill #3: Connect with those who love you.
The CDC says connection is a key to protecting the mental health of kids. Do what you can to keep your relationship strong. (Here are some conversation starters to help you connect!)
Be sure you are spending plenty of quality and quantity time with your child. Engage with them in meaningful conversation. Include them in your world. Remind them every day how much you love them and that you’ll be there for them, no matter what. Encourage them to come to you when they need you. When they know you are on their side, your child will be much more empowered to manage strong emotions like depression.
One last thing: your kids need your example. You want your child to have confidence that they can work through emotional struggle. This is difficult for a kid to come by if you don’t regulate your own emotions, care for yourself, and seek help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help for yourself or any family member who can’t seem to shake depression; we all need help like this at times.
You know what it’s like to struggle with your emotions. We know our kids will wrestle with theirs at some point. It’s part of life. Let’s be sure our kids are equipped to handle their feelings, so their feelings don’t handle them. Begin some skill-building this week and keep it going. And don’t forget to stay connected!