8 habits that promote good mental health in children

In a recent survey commissioned by Benenden Health, it was found that a third of parents have seen a negative impact on their children’s mental wellbeing since the outbreak of coronavirus. An additional 40% said they never talk about mental health with their children.

If you’re worried that your children are suffering from poor mental health, here are some healthy habits you can teach them to promote good mental health during these difficult times.

1. Stay active

It’s important that your children see activity as the norm. It goes without saying that there are massive physical benefits to being an active child and too much sitting can lead to problems with obesity and its related conditions, as well as low bone density which can lead to osteoporosis. But did you know it has huge benefits to their mental health too? A study carried out in 2016 found that moderate activity between the ages of six and eight led to less symptoms of depression two years later.

To keep your children active during this time, consider reducing screen time and encouraging activities that keep children on their feet – such as playing hide and seek or helping to lay the table for little ones. For older children, have independent entertainment in the garden, such as a trampoline or a basketball hoop.

2. Don’t snack between meals

Evidence is mounting that shows a link between sugar and poor mental health in adult life. Protect your children early on by teaching them to grab healthy snacks between meals. The best way to stop children hankering after chocolate biscuits and crisps is to not eat them yourself. Research shows that children’s eating habits mimic those of their parents. So, if sugary snacks aren’t part of a family routine, your children won’t crave them. This not only supports healthy eating habits, but also aids good mental health. 

3. See green

It’s a scientific fact – nature is good for you. Make sure your children are connected to nature by making garden time, or your daily exercise, fun: hunt for minibeasts, jump in muddy puddles and see who can catch the most falling leaves.


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4. Sleep well

Six out of ten children in the UK are getting less than the 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night they need which is leading to concentration issues, poor mental health and more bad moods than there should be. Take all TVs and tablets out of bedrooms and instill a bedtime routine: no screens for at least an hour before bed, a bath, teeth-brushing and then reading until lights out – either with you or by themselves.

5. For green veg, think green fingers

Research shows a relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents. Encourage children to try more varieties of vegetables by helping to grow them. It has been found that school children were more likely to select salad as part of their meal when it had been grown at the school by students, rather than bought in.

Easy veg for British gardens include tomatoes, lettuces, peas, courgettes and runner beans. This is a great activity to get started with at the moment, as parents have more time at home to tend the garden with their children. If you don’t have a garden, consider planning containers or tubs inside. Carrots, garlic, chillies and herbs all grow perfectly well indoors.

6. Don’t let stress build up

Stress and anxiety aren’t just the preserve of adults. Children also worry about all sorts of things. Research conducted by Benenden Health found that during the coronavirus pandemic, children have been worried about not understanding what’s been going on, missing friends, missing out on education and their friends and their health. Give them the chance to talk about it, ask what they are stressed about and work out solutions together – if left unexplored, stress can develop into permanent feelings of anxiety.

7. Happy hands

Helping children understand that washing their hands is the best way to protect against coronavirus may help ease some of their health worries. Proper hand washing should take as long as singing happy birthday twice – something all children know how to do! It can very easily become a habit – especially if you’re singing. 

8. Open communication

Research carried out by Benenden Health found that a huge 39% of parents cite not seeing friends as being the main cause of stress for their children. Support them by building time into their day to catch-up with family and friends over supervised video chat. Seeing the faces of the people they love can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on children and remind them that their friends and family are still there.

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