How to Prevent Your Mental Health Issues from Affecting Your Children
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When it comes to your kids, mental health challenges are also opportunities
There is this notion that everyone screws up their kids at least a little, even amazing parents who work tirelessly to provide the best life for their children. Mental health issues—from simple stress or a short temper to something more burdensome, such as clinical depression and anxiety—can increase the chance of parents behaving in a way that might negatively impact their loved ones.
Imagine a daughter who routinely overhears her depressed mother ramble on about how the world is a horrible place where no one is capable of love or empathy. Think about a boy whose father forbids him from group activities because he has severe anxiety about any harm befalling his son. When children grow up around mental illness or maladaptive relationship patterns, such an environment can contribute to the development of various disorders and problems. Kids subconsciously internalize or mimic what they see.
To ensure your children do not fall prey to similar scenarios, you need to be mindful of stress and mental health. Here is some advice on how to prevent your issues from rubbing off on your kids in a manner that could stymie their growth into happy, healthy adults.
Believe you can succeed. Some parents believe it is impossible to prevent mental health issues from damaging their children. If you are one of them, try to adopt a different attitude. To succeed in managing your children’s mental health, parents need to believe the goal is possible, according to Talkspace therapist Melissa Moreno.
Take care of your mental health. You won’t be able to effectively care for anyone if your own health is in shambles. Parenting carries an inevitable amount of stress, so consider bolstering your mental health by doing at least one of the following:
- Working with a therapist online or in person
- Exercising regularly
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation
- Having a fun hobby or activity outside work
- Keeping a gratitude journal
- Spending plenty of time in nature
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. They may be your children, but it is OK for other people to assist in caring for them. Do you have any friends or family members who are more than happy to babysit your child? Invite them over occasionally so you can take a break or meet a deadline without being neglectful or stressing out.
This tactic is especially helpful when you have a mental illness. Your children should not be helping you pick up a prescription or cope with symptoms; instead, lean on friends and family members who are mature and educated enough to understand how certain disorders can affect our lives.
Join a community for parents. There are hundreds of in-person and online communities for parents that are great for mingling and connecting with like-minded people who can offer support and helpful advice. ESME, for example, is one of the best resources for single moms. Many ESME community members have opened up about dealing with mental health issues while raising their children. Whether it’s post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder, or depression linked to a history of domestic violence, ESME moms support one another.
Use educational resources to improve your parenting. Of the many books and articles on parenting, several focus specifically on handling mental health issues while being a caregiver. A few of them are listed below.
- “How Caregivers Can Avoid Burnout and Stay Mentally Healthy”
- “How Depression Strengthened My Relationship With My Son”
- “Tips for Parenting With a Mental Illness”
- “You’re Not Alone: Parents With Mental Illness Share What They Wish They’d Known”
- Parenting Well When You’re Depressed: A Complete Resource for Maintaining a Healthy Family (New Harbinger Publications, 2001)
- Wishing Wellness: A Workbook for Children of Parents with Mental Illness (Magination Press, 2006)
Don’t make the same mistakes your parents did. If you have a mental illness or mental health issues, there is a good chance your parents did, too. Their behavior and values might have negatively shaped your views on caregiving.
To negate those effects, study objective resources such as the ones above and use them to formulate a strategy. Don’t assume your preconceived parenting instincts are valid. If you and your ex are arguing about whose caregiving philosophy has the best impact on your child’s mental health, therapist Tina B. Tessina recommends reviewing parenting literature together. Starting with something neutral might help you and your ex reach a compromise.
Use mental health challenges as an opportunity. When parents overcome challenges, their children often bear witness and learn how to weather their own ordeals. Mental health issues are no exception.
“Through your actions and words, you are teaching and modeling strength, courage, and resiliency to manage challenges in life,” Moreno says. “Your children will see firsthand the courage and ability to manage problems, and how to be resilient.”
A parent’s struggles with mental illness are sources of stress for families, but they also can be opportunities for the parent to become a stronger person and a better caregiver.
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