Core Components of Fostering Better Mental Health in Youth

Core Components of Fostering Better Mental Health in Youth

We are being more open about our mental health these days. It’s a hard conversation to have, but being vulnerable will make us healthier people in the long run. Adulthood makes it easier to open up about what we are feeling and what is affecting us. We have the vocabulary and the self-awareness to share how we are feeling. However, children are not equipped with these same tools. They are just learning how to communicate how they are feeling without acting out.  Having deeper conversations with children about mental health can be difficult, but you would be surprised by how well they will respond. When teaching youth how to monitor their mental health, you must encourage their developing social skills. Fostering personal wellness includes developing the tools required to communicate when there’s something wrong. Here are some core components to support positive youth development.

Physical and Mental Health Work in Tandem

In supporting better mental health in youth, a great place to start is with their physical health. Not only is exercise beneficial to our mental health but low energy and reluctance to participate in games can also be signs of a larger issue. Of course, not all children are equally in love with sports or physical activity, but when they completely disengage from playing with their friends, it might be time to talk to them.  When you are looking after children as a caregiver, you start to notice what each child’s baseline energy level is. While everyone is entitled to a down day, when you notice a continued dip in a child’s energy, have a chat with them. This allows them the platform to share how they are feeling without thinking they have done something wrong. It is important to reinforce that they are in a safe space and are not being judged for not participating.

Safe Space Always

Children respond to the environment they are in. At home, school or after-school activities, they will soak up the energy and behaviors they witness in each of these spaces. If your goal is to promote stronger mental health in children, do everything you can to foster a safe, welcoming environment for them to be in. You can’t control all of the spaces they are in when they are not in your care, making it critical that you do everything while they are under your watch to make them feel safe. When you create safe spaces for children, they begin to trust you. They associate the safety they feel in those spaces with you. This is a huge win in supporting their mental health. Should they find themselves in crisis, you will be one of the people they will turn to. Be prepared! You won’t be able to read their mind so you won’t know what’s coming next. Just be supportive and help them however you can.

Let Them Lead

When you’re an adult addressing a child in crisis, you are most likely going to want to jump in and fix their problem. It’s not an inappropriate reaction, but it’s not where you are going to want to start. Let them lead the conversation. Break down whatever situation they are facing into segments. Make the problem seem smaller to them by helping them work through all of the different aspects of the situation. If you believe there to be an immediate need for your intervention – do so. As much as you are fostering positive youth development, you still have a responsibility to protect them from dangerous situations. Be aware of times the children just need an ear and when they need your protection.

Positive Youth Development Starts With All of Us

We all have a stake in the personal wellness of youth. JP4 Foundation believes in taking a holistic approach when caring for children. We offer enriching after-school and summer programs with a focus on nutrition, social development, academic achievement and wellness. We believe that by including each of these aspects, we are setting children up for success.  If you would like to host our afterschool program — at no cost to your facility — contact us today!
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