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Five things every kid needs to be mentally healthy

March 30, 2018

Lately there seems to be an increased focus on the needs of our children, especially when it comes to their mental health. Sure, everyone is different, but according to Martin Seager, a renowned clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and activist, there are five universal musts for all children to grow up mentally healthy.

What does it mean to be mentally healthy?

There are a variety of definitions, of course, but one that speaks to me is from the Merriam Webster dictionary, and it says, “the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life.”

As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, I do not fully agree with that definition because I believe that individuals with mental illnesses can still be mentally healthy if they are appropriately managing their illness. Despite this bone of contention, I do like this definition and feel that it is relevant when we discuss the mental health of our children.

The five tenets of mental health for kids

According to Seager, these are the five things all kids need:

  1. To be loved

    As poetic as the words are, love is not ALL we need, but it is definitely a necessity. Kids need to feel loved, cared for, protected, and respected by key people in their lives such as parents, family members, teachers, and friends- the more people, the better. Showing a child love does not have to be verbally telling them that you love them; love can be shown through one’s actions as well.

  2. To belong

    Belonging does not and should not mean “fitting in.” Children face a lot of pressure to fit in and assimilate with others. For some kids this is no big deal, but for others it can cause stress and can lead to self-doubt. Teaching kids from an early age that belonging should be an internal concept and not an external concept can make all the difference. For example, instead of looking to find others to help define who they are, they can look inside themselves to figure that out. Once they know who they are, they can look for others that fit into their own little world.

  3. To be heard

    This is a tough one. As a mental health counselor at Teen Xpress, I meet with adolescents that frequently talk about not being heard. Sometimes, family and friends are unable or unwilling to set aside the time to connect, and sometimes family members are so intent on getting their own point across that they are unable to really take in where their child is coming from. All of us need to have moments where we feel listened to, respected, and heard regardless of whether or not the other party agrees with us.

  4. To have meaning

    Everyone, including children, needs to have meaning in their lives. Whether it stems from an interest, a passion, a talent, a skill or simply a bond with others it is necessary for all to feel that there is meaning, or “a point to it all.” This helps with creating an identity, forming connections with others and learning about things bigger than oneself.
  5. To achieve

    We all know that not everyone can be the best at everything. Perfection does not equal happiness. However, there are valuable benefits for kids when they feel like they are good at something- whether it’s a toddler learning to brush their teeth, a kid riding her bike, or a teen landing his first job. Achievement means accomplishments, which leads to positive self-esteem. After reading through the five “must haves,” it’s easy to see how beneficial each and every one of these things could be in a child’s life, or anyone’s life for that matter! Are your children getting their mental health needs met? Check in with them and see where they are. Parenting is a difficult job and a huge responsibility. For some of us, we have days where it’s a struggle just to get everyone fed, much less worry about emotional needs! 

If you find that there is not enough time in the day to make sure that every need is met, reach out to others to help support you as you support your child. Schools and extracurricular activities can be excellent resources for activities and learning opportunities that can lead to belonging, meaning, and achievement.

Tell your child every day that you love them and hear their concerns when they are struggling. They will know how much you care about them and will get the support they need from you and from other important people in their lives.