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Parenthood is not easy at the best of times. Parents can often feel overwhelmed and stressed out and can struggle with staying balanced and calm. Unfortunately, to our disadvantage, children often pick up on these emotions. And whether we like it or not – it does affect them!

The Emotional Development of Children

Loving relationships with responsible adults are essential to a children’s healthy development. While most parents are more aware of children’s physical growth, the bond with their child also has a huge influence on their brain development. By age five, a child’s brain is 90% developed. Children’s relationships with adults are the key to a healthy life as it sets the foundation of their emotional maturing. Children learn to experience emotions, express them, and relate to others.. among other things. During these early years, they can also go through mental health problems. However, quite often these issues are not addressed or taken seriously.

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

When children are faced with traumatic events such as emotional distress, parents’ divorce or arguments or death of a family member, it threatens their mental health. We use the term Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to describe these traumatic events. Family financial problems are one of the most common followed by divorce or separation of a parent or guardian.

Other common adverse experiences that affect children mental health care:

  • Poverty or homelessness

  • Chronic neglect

  • Being a victim of domestic violence

  • Recurrent physical or sexual abuse

  • Parent’s mental illness

  • Substance abuse

  • The separation or divorce of parents

  • Families with high conflict (including regular arguments between parents)

  • Racism or violence

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The impact of chronic neglect, violence, or parental mental illness has lifelong implications on each child. It puts children at a high risk of developing mental health disorders, being more prone to addictions in the future and impacting their physical health. It also reinforces their negative inner voice.

All families experience challenges. How you deal with them means everything.

Challenges in the families don’t necessarily mean that the emotional development of their children will suffer. Many parents with mental health problems manage their condition, and their children do not experience any adverse effects. Many children will grow up with a parent who might have a mild form of a mental illness. When parents have access to support, they can minimise the impact their illness has on their children. However, when that support is missing, things can look very different.

Traumatic events leave children vulnerable and increase the likelihood that mental health problems will affect them into their adulthood. But it doesn’t end there – parental mental health issues can increase the chances of a child developing a heart disease, performing poorly at school or being prone to addictions and risky behaviour. Every parent wants what is best for their child. The best way to ensure mental wellbeing in children is to provide a consistent family life where they are safe and supported.

What Can You Do to Support Your Family’s Mental wellbeing?

Don’t let stigma prevent you from seeking help! Be honest about mental health issues and don’t be afraid to open up to your family members about it. Acknowledging your difficulties is step one to your recovery. Some parents do not want to talk about it with their kids, but kids are smarter than we think. By discussing mental health with your family, children can be part of your recovery process.

Other things you can do to empower your kids are to:

  • Actively listen to them

  • Provide a safe and open home environment

  • Avoid labels, “depressed” and “anxious” may be too foreign to a child; use sad and scared instead

  • Let your child express their emotions and talk about them with you

  • Always try to model healthy behaviour

  • Try to stay calm during arguments and heated family discussions

  • Give your kids hugs and show them love every day

  • Teach communication and coping skills

  • Encourage your partner to support ‘’no mental health stigma’’ home environment

  • Teach your kids to build a positive self-image


What’s next ?

Learn how to better manage and reduce your stress. Cultivate self-care and take time to relax and unwind. Make quality time for your partner. Do something fun together. Your children will feel the difference, when you are calmer and more relaxed in your communication. Do your best to create a safe home, and work on improving your relationships with others, including the one with your partner. Don’t be shy to look for professional help if you feel your family will benefit from it.