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Children's Mental Health

10 Ways To Cultivate Positive Teen Body Image

Body image is defined as how and what you think and feel about your body. It includes the picture of your body that you have in your mind, which might or might not match your body’s actual shape and size.

“A person has a positive or healthy body image if they feel happy and satisfied with their body, and are comfortable with and accepting of the way they look,” says Danah Gutierrez, a body positivity advocate and host of the podcast “Raw and Real.mp3” together with her twin sister Stacy. “They accept that everyone is diverse, and that the body is not an ornament to be looked at.”

On the other hand, a person with a negative unhealthy body image feels unhappy with the way they look. “People who feel like this often want to change their body size or shape,” Danah adds.

A person’s body image is influenced by many factors. These include family environment, the attitudes of peers, social media, cultural background, and more.

Puberty is also a big influence. This is a time when a child’s body goes through lots of changes; at the same time, teens encounter the pressures of fitting in and finding a sense of belonging. “In my high school, conversations about who are the best-looking in our batch were common; students would be ranked based on who was the prettiest, and I was told many times that if I lost weight, my rank would go higher,” Danah relates.

This is why if you are a parent to teens or work with teens, it is important to know that you have an influence on your child’s body image. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting your child to be well-groomed or present themselves well; these are good values,” Danah points out. “But how much do you value appearances, and is it perceived in a healthy way? Because there can be situations when teens will not process it the right way.”

An unhealthy teenage body image is directly related to low self-esteem, which are risk factors for the development of risky weight loss strategies, eating disorders, and mental health disorders like depression. “It might also lead teens to look for detrimental ways to feel desired, to feel a sense of belongingness, or to be valued, such as turning to peers or the media,” cautions Danah.

On the other hand, teens who feel good about their body grow up more likely to have good self-esteem and mental health as well as a balanced attitude to eating and physical activity.

“When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful!”

Danah Gutierrez, body positivity advocate

Here are the things you can do to help your teen develop a positive body image:

  1. Explain that weight gain is normal during puberty. During this time, children feel “out of control” with the changes they are experiencing in their body. It can help tremendously to know about and understand these changes before they occur. Girls who are experiencing their first menstrual cycle, especially, should realize that growth and weight spurts are necessary and normal for their development.

  2. ‘Instagram vs. reality.’ Tell your teen to be more discerning of what they see on social media or tv. Help assuage their insecurities by explaining how the images are often digitally manipulated so that people look more ‘beautiful’ than they really are.

  3. Focus on inner beauty. “Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body,” says Danah. “When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful.”

  4. Discuss self-image. “Have an honest and vulnerable discussion with your teen about weaknesses and flaws (theirs and yours), share your own struggles and what healthy ways you took to be better,” Danah explains.

  5. Help establish healthy eating and exercise habits. If your child wants to eat differently or do more exercise, that’s OK – but make sure it’s for healthy reasons, and the dieting and exercise don’t become extreme. “Let your child know that healthy eating and physical activity aren’t just for weight loss – they’re vital for physical health, now and in the future,” points out Danah.

  6. Praise achievements. “Don’t have to limit compliments to appearance, i.e. you’re so fair-skinned, you’re so skinny,” says Danah. “Tell your child that you’re proud of them for things that aren’t related to appearance, such as ‘I love how you’re so eager to learn about life’ or ‘You’re so mature for your age’ or ‘I really enjoy your company.’” 

Also focus on what their body can do, rather than how their body looks. For example, you can say, ‘Wow, you hit that ball a long way’, rather than ‘Gosh, you’ve got big arm muscles’.

  1. Set a good example. If you show that you feel positive about your own body, it’ll be easier for your child to be positive about their body. Talk about eating healthy, not dieting; talk about exercising to be stronger, not to lose weight; and do let your child see you eating a variety of food, vegetables, and lean meats, not only diet foods or fat-free foods.

  2. Discourage family and friends from using hurtful nicknames and joking about people who are overweight. Teasing can have a negative influence on body image and can also lead to bullying. It’s important to let everyone in your family know that teasing about weight or appearance is not okay. “I would call out the commenter by saying right away ‘What did you say? I don’t think that’s funny,’” Danah says. “Then I would have a private conversation with that person and tell them I would appreciate it if they did do that in front of my kid, that’s not going to help my child in any way, and I think my child is beautiful just the way they are.”

  3. Connect them with body positive role models. There are things teens cannot share with their parents, and that is normal. “So make sure there are other older people in your circle who are trustworthy, have good character, are grounded, and who carry themselves with confidence,” says Danah. “This way when your child needs to seek advice, they don’t just rely on their peers who  are just as confused and clueless as they are.”

  4. Actively listen and communicate with your child. Respect that they have insecurities. “Don’t just tell them ‘What you are feeling is wrong,’ take the time to listen and figure them out,” suggests Danah. “Assure them that their looks are not the only thing about them, that they have so much more to offer. Make them understand that their body is an instrument, not just an ornament; it’s an instrument to experience good things and bad things, to enjoy life. And tell them that they can be beautiful in so many other ways than just through their appearances.”

As a parent, teacher, or close adult relative, you are the most influential role model in your children’s life. If your teen seems to have anxiety or stress about how he or she looks, start by talking with them about your concerns. And if things don’t change and you’re still worried, consider reaching out to a health professional. MindNation’s psychologists are available 24/7 for online consultations with you or your child. Book  a session now through http://m/me/themindnation or email [email protected] . Rest assured that all conversations will be kept secure and confidential.

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Children's Mental Health Featured

Supporting Students’ Mental Health And Well-being During COVID-19

With many schools transitioning into remote or online learning because of the pandemic, the toll of the virus, isolation, increased workload, and other associated effects are rising among many students. According to a May 2020 survey by Best Colleges, an online college planning resource, 81% of high school and college students surveyed said they somewhat or strongly agreed that they were experiencing increased stress due to the learning disruptions stemming from COVID-19.

“In the beginning, remote learning seemed easier and fun for kids since classes are only for half a day and they are just at home,” says Dr. Natasha Esteban-Ipac, a pediatrician and adolescent-medicine specialist. “But there are also disadvantages to online schooling, chiefly the lack of physical connection with other humans — no more hallway chats, high-fives, pats on the back, or hugs from friends and teachers. Students also need to contend with virtual learning fatigue because it takes extra effort to interpret the non-verbal cues of the person on the other side of the monitor. Lastly, let’s not forget that there are physical ill-effects of spending too much time online — eye strain, headache, and fatigue can affect their general well-being.”

“If left unresolved, these can affect a child’s ability and capacity to succeed at home, in school, in relationships, and in work later on.”

Dr. Natasha Esteban-Ipac, a pediatrician and adolescent-medicine specialist

All of the above, compounded with other pandemic-related stresses like parents’ anxieties and disruption of routine, can lead to the development of mental health issues in children such as anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, and other mood disorders, sleep disorders, and even addiction to technology. “If left unresolved, these can affect a child’s ability and capacity to succeed at home, in school, in relationships, and in work later on,” says Dr. Esteban-Ipac.

What can parents and educators do to protect a student’s mental health? According to Dr. Estebal-Ipac, “All we need is L.O.V.E.”

  • L – Label and validate emotions. 

“We need to help children recognize what they are feeling and express them in healthy ways to prevent them from bottling up,” she says. This includes teaching them calming techniques such as deep breathing exercises, pausing to count from 1 to 10, or writing in a journal or diary. “When a child knows what to do when he or she is faced with certain emotions, they feel a sense of control and are comforted,” she adds

  • O – Offer to listen and respond.

Empathize and talk with your children when they are feeling tired, stressed, or scared. “Believe in the power of touch—hug or cuddle your children. Do not be afraid to be firm, though, if they do something wrong or anything that will compromise their safety,” reminds Dr. Ipac-Esteban. 

  • V – Value routine, rules, and schedules.

Having a structure at home is very helpful especially during stressful situations like this pandemic. When children have some form of control over the things that will happen throughout the day, they will feel more safe and secure. “Have a routine for waking up, preparing for school, mealtimes, activities such as playing or reading, and bedtime,” she says. 

Things not to miss out in these routines, rules, and schedules include:

  • Eating a balanced diet regularly
  • Having regular physical activity. “There is no need to squeeze in a home gym if you do not have space. Simple exercises like walking or jogging (in place if needed), stretching, dancing, lifting weights (even using home objects such as water bottles) are good enough,” suggests Dr. Esteban-Ipac. 
  • Limiting non-school related screen time 
  • Having adequate sleep and practicing good sleep hygiene
  • Socializing with other people but always making sure to stay safe
  • Always learning. “Constantly explore something new with your children, be it cooking, calligraphy, photography, or other online courses. Part of learning is also teaching the children about life skills, or how they can be functional adults. So involve them in doing household chores, preparing meals, cleaning parts of the house, or doing the laundry,” Dr. Esteban-Ipac advises. 
  • E – Embrace mistakes, chaos and imperfections: both your children’s and yours.
    Negotiating and resolving conflicts is an important skill children should learn because it develops resilience, and they learn it best with adults around them, be it parents or teachers. Some things we can do:
    • Try spending one on one quality time with each child (if you have more than one).
    • Try to solve problems together, and if it is really overwhelming for them, help them break down the task/problem into smaller tasks so they can solve it one step at a time. 
    • Help them organize their time and give them the opportunity to decide how they will tackle their tasks (be it school work or chores). This gives them a sense of autonomy and boosts their confidence.
    • Reframe their mistakes as learning opportunities and involve them in planning ways to improve their work. Reassure them that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that you do not love them any less. 

All these strategies will really require time and patience, so if you are a parent or teacher, don’t forget to practice self-care. “One of my favorite sayings is ‘Mental health begins with M.E,’” says Dr. Esteban-Ipac. “A stressed parent will lead to a stressed child, and in the same way a happy and healthy parent will result in a happy and healthy child.”

“A stressed parent will lead to a stressed child, and in the same way a happy and healthy parent will result in a happy and healthy child.”

If you feel your child is really troubled with online learning, talk to them and help them identify their reasons for being stressed or sad. But if it is really overwhelming, even for you, do not be afraid to seek professional help if needed.

MindNation’s Care Helpline on FB Messenger is available 24/7, all year round, if you or your child needs someone to talk to. The service is FREE, completely confidential, and the staff is trained to ease your anxieties. Drop them a line at http://m.me/themindnation.

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Featured Get Inspired Mental Health 101

4 Psychological Benefits of Family Meals

Family mealtimes are not just for rest and sustenance; research has shown that when families eat together, the members reap gains that go beyond better physical health.

Below are 4 research-backed reasons why eating together as a family can contribute to improved mental and emotional well-being:

1. Children tend to be happier.

Because eating together improves parent-child relationships, children feel more stable, secure, and are less inclined to engage in risky behavior like suicide and unsafe sex practices. They are also less likely to have mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. The same is true for adults — studies show that mothers who ate with their families often were also found to be happier and less stressed compared to mothers who did not.

2. It’s easier for parents to monitor and protect the kids from bullying.

Bullying and cyber-bullying have become ever present threats to school-going children. Although parents can do little to avoid bullying from ever occurring, conversing over meals can help them find out if their child is being bullied and help him respond to the situation.

3. Children do better academically.

Scientists have found that when parents converse with their children during mealtimes, the child will have a better vocabulary than children whose parents don’t have a sit down meal with them. Children also seem to score academically better on an average when they eat regularly with the parents – possibly since mealtimes are a great opportunity for parents to discuss projects, identify weak spots, and encourage strengths in the child’s academic progress

4. Better parent-child relationships.

Parents and children who eat regular family dinners seem to share a better relationship. They are more honest and open with each other, and the parents are more likely to know what is happening in the child’s life. Studies also show that children from families who eat together regularly felt that they could share their problem with their parents and turn to them for advice and support. On the other hand, teens from families that did not eat together regularly were more likely to feel isolated from their parents.

When eating together:

  • Focus on enjoying each other’s company, not on what or how much each child is eating.
  • Keep conversations positive. Encourage children to talk about their day. This helps to develop more communication between family members.
  • Schedule difficult or disciplinary conversations for some time other than meals.
  • Turn off distractions like the TV, computer, tablets and phones during mealtimes. Keep toys and books off the table.

Family mealtimes provide parents and children a great opportunity to socialize, relax, and improve their mental health. If conflicting schedules do not allow for everyone to be together in the evening, then schedule family meals at breakfast or lunch; just pick a time when everyone can be together in a relaxed setting, and do it regularly.

We can all help prevent suicide. If you or a loved one is in distress, MindNation connects individuals with counselors for emotional support and other services via web chat, 24/7, anytime, anywhere. The service is completely confidential and the staff is trained to help you ease your anxieties. Start chatting here: http://m.me/themindnation

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Featured Mental Health 101

Learning Empathy for Kids ages 7-12

We’ve learned in past articles that empathy is an important life skill that everyone should possess. The earlier that children practice empathetic habits the more likely they will continue to do it as they grow older.

By the time children reach the age of 5, they begin to outgrow the “me” mentality of their toddler years and become more attuned to things happening outside their own bubble. Once they reach the formative ages of 7 to 12 and spend more time at school than at home, they will interact more with peers and learn empathetic concepts like sharing and cooperating. Working together in the classroom will make them realize that people have different feelings than they do and that their actions can affect how others feel.

Here are ways you can cultivate your child’s empathy even more:

When talking about feelings, talk about the physical manifestations as well. 
Teach kids to link their own physical manifestations to specific experiences, so that they will develop a sense of what other people might feel in similar circumstances. For instance, if your child sees someone who is scared, you might ask her, “Remember that time when you saw the big, barking dog? How did that feel in your body?” By recalling her pounding heart and sweaty palms, she’ll instantly know what someone means when he says he’s afraid.

Put him/her in someone else’s shoes.
If she’s going through a hard time with a friend or even a sibling, try role-playing the situation and have her look at it from both points of view. If a younger sibling refuses to share his toys, she might come to realize that if he is allowed to enjoy his toy a few minutes longer, he might be more inclined to let others have a turn. It does not necessarily mean that he is acting selfishly, rather she just needs to be more patient. On other hand, her own feelings of frustration and disappointment will teach her how hurtful rejection can be – and help her to be kinder the next time she does not want to share something herself.

Help children understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them.
It’s vital for children to learn that sometimes, concern for others should trump their own happiness. For example, they should do household chores even if they would rather watch tv, they should be polite even if they are in a bad mood, and they should not interrupt if their parents are talking to other people. 

Prioritize caring in your children’s lives. 
For example, when you ask your child about her day in school, don’t just ask if she listened to the teacher or did well in her written works. Ask her if she also showed care and helpfulness to classmates or other adults.

Continue to demonstrate empathy for others, especially those different from you.
Be a good role model. Reflect on how you treat the waiter at the restaurant or the salespeople at the mall. In addition, consider regularly engaging in community service or model other ways of contributing to a community. Even better, do this with your child. Express interest in those from various backgrounds facing many different types of challenges.

The good news is you don’t have to be a professional to teach your child to be mindful and compassionate of other people’s emotions. By simply engaging with your child and practicing what you preach, you can easily pass on the lessons of empathy. 

Written by Jacq of MindNation

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Featured Mental Health 101

5 Ways to Cultivate Empathy in Small Children

Empathy is the ability to imagine how someone else is feeling in a particular situation and respond with compassion. It is a complex skill to develop in small children because they are still at an age when their needs are being met on-demand and they aren’t fully in control of their own emotions yet, let alone recognize what others may be feeling. However, empathy is also an essential life skill to learn because research has shown that it can build healthy and happy relationships with family and friends, as well as do well in school.

When a child is able to empathize, it means he or she can:

  • Understand that he/she is a separate individual, his/her own person
  • Understand that others can have different thoughts and feelings than he/she has
  • Recognize the common feelings that most people experience – happiness, surprise, anger, sadness, etc.
  • Look at a particular situation (i.e. watching a classmate tearfully say good-bye to his/her parent at play school) and imagine how he/she himself might feel in that moment
  • Imagine what response might be appropriate or comforting in the above situation – i.e. offer his/her friend a toy to comfort him/her

Here are some things parents can do to teach empathy to their toddler:

  • Show your child empathy. A common mistake parents make is to shush their child whenever he/she is crying – “Don’t be a crybaby, you have to be brave, you’re being embarrassing, etc.” Doing this teaches your child that feelings do not matter. Instead of brushing his emotions aside, ask him/her what is making him afraid or upset, acknowledge what he/she said, and find ways to resolve what is making him/her upset. “Are you afraid of the dog? I know his loud barks can be scary, but don’t worry, he is tied up so he cannot hurt you. Here, let me hold your hand as we pass by.”
  • Talk about other people’s feelings. In the same vein, when we see other toddlers crying or acting up, our first instinct is to hustle our own child away from the hubbub. But doing so teaches him/her that we should ignore other people’s unpleasant feelings. Instead of avoiding the situation, try discussing what happened – “How do you think he/she’s feeling?” and “Why is he/she feeling that way?” are questions that three-year-olds can easily understand and answer. Research has shown that when families routinely do this, kids can learn a lot about other people’s perspectives and how their minds function.

If your child personally knows the peer in distress (i.e. a family member or a classmate in play school), encourage him to personally reach out and find ways to offer comfort.

  • Be a role model. When your child sees you consistently acting kindly and respectfully to others (i.e. opening doors for strangers, carrying the things of older people, helping during times of crisis), they will emulate these habits as they grow older.
  • Use chores to teach them to be mindful and considerate of others. Toddlers can already be taught to pack away their toys, water the plants, and even set the table. Not only do these actions teach them about helpfulness, it also reinforces respect for others.
  • Be patient. Developing empathy takes time. There are teenagers (and even some adults) who lack empathetic skills, so don’t expect too much from your toddler. Especially between the ages of 0-3, it is perfectly normal for them to focus solely on themselves and their emotions, so the most you can do for now is to introduce the concept in their everyday lives so that it eventually becomes a habit.

Written by Jacq of MindNation

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Mental Health 101

5 Ways to Care for Your Child’s Mental Health During The Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly shown us is that everything is uncertain. And no one feels the confusion more than our children who suddenly find their carefree lives on pause due to the lockdown. Suddenly, they are no longer allowed to play with friends, eat at their favorite restaurant on weekends, go on vacations. They also have endless questions about the virus, some of which us parents have no answers to, either!

Here are some ways you can help your children cope:

Stick to a schedule

In times of uncertainty, the structure of a daily routine provides predictability. Even if it feels as if they are on vacation because they no longer go to school, children should still follow regular wake-up and bedtimes, mealtimes, study time, and even time for play.

Make exercise mandatory

Just because they need to stay indoors does not mean they should be sedentary. Physical activity not only boosts the immune system (important when we are in the midst of a pandemic) it has also been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Engage in rough play with younger kids, while older kids can do simple exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, and planking. 

Explain social distancing in an age-appropriate manner.

While younger children are content to just stay at home, teenagers may bristle at the loss of their freedom of movement, especially when they read on the news that their age group is not at high risk for contracting the disease. Instead of imposing your will, explain to them that while they might not get sick from COVID-19, there is the chance that they will become carriers of the virus and inadvertently infect older, more susceptible members of the household.

Filter news about the pandemic.

While we do want our children to be informed, barraging them with facts and figures (especially with infected, death, and recovery statistics) might overwhelm or frighten them. Instead, focus on imparting news that will make them feel safe and reassured, i.e. that scientists and policy-makers all over the world are doing all they can to find a solution.

Relax the rules on screen time.

If you used to only allow your child to play with their gadgets a few hours a day, consider allowing them an extra hour or so to video-chat with friends and extended family. This helps foster connections in the midst of social distancing. 

Lastly, remember that children take their emotional and behavioral cues from their parents. If they see you being stressed and anxious, they will most likely feel the same. So be a good role model and take care of your own mental health too.

Written by Jac of MindNation