Editor’s Note: May is Mental Health Awareness month. We thought it was a great time to ask Hillsides senior clinical manager Paul Inglizian, LCSW, for his top tips on how to keep a family mentally healthy and happy. Below is his down-to-earth, wise wisdom that all families can use.
By Alison Bell
How to keep your family mentally healthy and happy? While there is no foolproof formula, these tips can help you and your family thrive:
Schedule a regular family meeting
Have your family meet once a week or every other week to share feelings and talk out issues. Regular meetings give your family a chance to communicate and connect on a regular basis. You may want to use a “talking stick” to help each member receive equal talking time. Whichever family member holds the stick gets everyone’s undivided attention until he or she is ready to pass it on.
Create family rituals
Many families work so hard and have so many obligations, they forget to have fun. Creating family rituals can bring your family closer together. Schedule a regular pizza night on Thursday evenings or establish a Sunday afternoon family walk. The more enjoyable activities you do together, the more you will enjoy and appreciate each other.
Take time for yourself
Parents give so much to their children that they often feel exhausted and depleted. However, even the best parents can’t give to their children all the time. It’s important to take out time for yourself so you can meet your needs. Go out with friends to a movie, take an art class, or curl up with a good book for an hour or two – whatever brings you joy and replenishes your soul. Taking care of yourself will give you more energy and patience to take care of your kids.
Create a support network
Make sure you have at least one or two people you can turn to in tough times, such as a friend, family member, or neighbor. Your support system can give you the reassurance, comfort, and friendship you need when you are feeling overwhelmed. If you don’t feel you have a strong support network, work on building one by joining a parenting group, reconnecting with old friends, or starting a new activity with people who share your interests and values.
Be the adult you want your child to become
Our children learn by watching us. Even if we don’t think they are noticing the way we act and what we say, they are. Therefore, the best way to teach positive traits, such as kindness and respect, is by modeling them ourselves. This is not to say you have to be perfect all the time; we’re all human. However, it’s important to keep in mind how much influence we have in shaping our children’s behavior.
Step back from confrontation
If a conversation among family members grows heated, take a break before the discussion escalates even further. Say something like, “Let’s all take a moment to cool down before we talk about this any further.” Give everyone five minutes to regroup, then come back to the conversation. Chances are, by then, everyone will be much calmer and you can work as a team to effectively communicate and problem-solve.
Stay alert to any changes
You know your child best. If you notice a sudden change in mood, behavior, or performance in school, don’t ignore it. Talk to your child to try to learn the cause of the change. Then, you can come up with an action plan to improve the situation. Let your child know you will continue to be there for him or her in the future. Continue to observe any changes and step in quickly when you see your child needs help.
Be real with your children
Parents think they need to be brave all the time and never show weakness, but that’s not true. It’s normal to show emotions, such as sadness or anxiety. It’s okay, for example, to admit to your child, “I had a bad day at work and don’t feel so great.” Often, simply by expressing how you feel, you will automatically feel better. In addition, being honest with your children validates any emotions they may be feeling and gives them permission to express them.
Practice patience during rocky times
Getting through daily life can be hard enough. Then, when you’re hit with a major stressor, such as the death of a loved one, a change in finances, or a move to a new place, your entire family can become unbalanced. When a change or crisis happens, know that everyone in your family may process the loss or transition differently. Some may also take longer to recover than others. Practice being patient, not only with your family, but with yourself.
Know when to get help
Stress or depression can affect all families and manifest itself in many ways, such as irritability, insomnia, headaches or stomachaches. If you or someone in your family is showing symptoms of distress, first visit a medical doctor to rule out a physical problem. Next, don’t hesitate to reach out and get mental health services, from Hillsides (www.hillsides.org) or another agency. There are many resources out there to help you, no matter what you are facing. You are never alone.