A Parent’s Role in Modeling Behaviors That Support Good Mental Health

Why your actions have more weight than you think and how to lead the way when it comes to positive mental health practices.

Do you practice self-care? For some, it’s scheduling a biweekly manicure and pedicure session. For others, it’s a daily workout or a once-a-month kayaking excursion with their partner. Some may find joy in dancing to their favorite song, taking a longer ride home from work or taking a bath every night after the kids go to bed. Whatever it is — are you as a parent making time for things that bring you a little joy and peace?

If you’re not, it’s time to start, says Serena Eagan, a licensed clinical social worker at Great Lakes Psychology Group’s Livonia location. After all, “kids are very smart and they pick up on stuff,” she says. So if you’re constantly putting your needs at the bottom of the list — or they aren’t making the list at all — your kids will notice and learn that it’s wrong or even shameful to care for themselves.

In order to break the cycle and create a life that focuses on ensuring good mental health for yourself and your children, Eagan offers advice for parents.

Prioritizing mental health

As a mom of three, Eagan knows how busy parents are taking care of their kids. It seems like the family calendar is filled with sports, dance, playdates, appointments and other activities — so where do you fit in time for yourself?

“I think it would be good to do a self-care activity inventory sheet,” she says. “You would have the activity, how long it normally takes, possible barriers and solutions to those barriers if they were to come up.”

By doing so, you’re able to see that you need 30 minutes a day for a workout or an hour and a half each week for your nail appointment. You can schedule that before breakfast or after dance class. Add it to the schedule and vow to stick to that routine. You’ll feel accomplished and your kids will see that you made the time to do something positive for yourself.

Continue to keep things positive with daily affirmations.

“Affirmations can change your life and I think it’s important for parents to say them for themselves,” she says.

Say things like, “I’m a great parent,” or “I spend time with my kids.” Speak things even if you don’t feel like you’re doing them. It’s something Eagan does with all three of her kids, and she suggests downloading the I Am app for daily affirmations. Write down affirmations or print them out to display them around the house.

Practice gratitude, too, she says. There are apps to download for this, as well. Both help your mental health and can help your children, too. If you practice what you preach, they will notice and it will help them prioritize their own mental health.

“It’s important for the parent-child relationship because when you’re authentic and you’re teaching them to be grateful for things, and it helps them appreciate life,” she says.

Other ways to promote positive mental health include playing games together, having dinner together, sitting down for a snack to talk about the highs and lows for the day. It helps kids feel valued and like they matter.

“Set aside time for each kid,” she adds. It could be a short period of time — like 10 minutes — but it’s meaningful. When speaking to your children, avoid statements such as, “well at least you have …” because they are dismissive and minimize feelings. They can also create shame and prevent children from expressing how they feel.

Let your kids get to know you as a person too.

“With my kids, I have a back-and-forth journal. It’s pretty much like mom’s favorites 1-10, daughter’s favorites,” she says. Each of you write in the book and whatever you write cannot be discussed out loud. It helps to create intimacy and freedom.

“That, too, helps them to see who we are. We are people outside of being a mom,” she says.

Those interested in these journals can search for Love, Dad and Me: A Father and Daughter Guided Journal to Connect and Bond and Like Mother, Like Daughter: A Discovery Journal for the Two of Us or Between Mom and Me: A Guided Journal for Mother and Son and Between Dad and Me: A Father and Son Guided Journal to Connect and Bond.

Content brought to you by the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation. For more information, visit flinnfoundation.org.

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