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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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Mental Health 101

5 Ways To Help Teens Find Their Passion And Purpose In Life

New year, new goals — how are your teenagers doing in this area? Perhaps it’s time to nudge them into thinking about what they want to do with their lives, i.e. finding their purpose. Do they want to be professional athletes? Social media influencers? Or do they simply want to raise a good family? Or spend their lives volunteering? Whatever the scale, it is important for people to have a life purpose because studies have shown that it will make their lives meaningful and — by extension– happier.

There is no rule that says teenagers need to find their life’s calling at this age. Some do, but others find it only upon reaching young adulthood. “The adolescent stage is all about exploring and experimenting with one’s identity and eventually reaching a commitment to that identity,” points out  Dr. Cara Fernandez, the Executive Director of the Ateneo Bulatao Center (www.ateneobulataocenter.com). 

But while we should not expect young people to identify their passion right away, adolescence is the perfect time to help them examine their options and guide their choices. below  are some ways:

  1. Open a dialogue. How do you know what your child is interested in? What does he or she want to do with their lives? Some questions that you can ask to get your young adult reflecting on purpose:

— What’s most important to you in your life?

— Why do you care about those things?

— Do you have any long-term goals?

— Why are these goals important to you?

— What does it mean to have a good life?

— What does it mean to be a good person?

— If you were looking back on your life, how would you want to be remembered? 

“During such conversations, [parents are reminded to be] good listeners as well as good interviewers, probing children to elaborate on their views, frequently asking the ‘Why’ question, and encouraging them to think more deeply about the things they find noteworthy and interesting,” writes Prof. William Damon of Stanford University in his book ‘The Path To Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling In Life.’ “[W]e become better able to hear their first murmurs of purpose; and in this way we provide the nurturing conditions for further exploration.”

  1. Let them explore. Because teens do not yet have the experience to know what excites them, it is the job of the adults around them (parents, extended family, and educators) to create opportunities for them to be exposed to new things. “Introduce them to different areas — the arts, music, reading, writing, religion, politics, sports, etc,” advises Dr. Fernandez. Let them talk to relatives or friends whose careers they find interesting. “If they show an interest in something, deepen it with positive reinforcement and encourage them to look further into it,” she adds. 
  1. Mind your biases. “If your teen says he or she likes to do X or Y, but you want them to consider Z because you think it’s better, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Dr. Fernandez says. “But be aware of your tone and the kind of encouragement you give. Be upfront and tell them that ‘I am biased for Z but it’s up to you, tell me if you think I am pushing.” This assures your child that he or she is free to tell you if they are feeling pressured into doing something that they do not like.  
  1. Be encouraging but offer realistic expectations. What if your teen’s passions are headed towards a path that you have reservations about? For example, “I want to teach underprivileged children” is a noble purpose in life but not a financially secure one. In this case, Dr. Fernandez advises parents to counter not with rejection but with information. “Explain to your child that certain life paths will result in certain lifestyles,” she suggests. “If they want to devote their lives to teaching, show them data about how much money a teacher makes, what the job will entail, and what lifestyle they will most likely follow. Then show them how different the situation is if they follow another life path. The purpose of doing this is not to discourage them, but to make sure that they go into the situation with their eyes open.” And if your child insists on his or her first choice, then accept it (as long as the goal is not criminal or destructive). “Ultimately, I know that parents value their child’s happiness,” Dr. Fernandez says. “If you tell them that this is going to be their life, and they are okay with that, then just be supportive.”

The purpose of [setting realistic expectations] is not to discourage them, but to make sure that they go into the situation with their eyes open.

Dr. Cara Fernandez PhD
  1. Convey your own sense of purpose and the meaning you derive from your work. “Parents should share their own goals and sense of purpose with children,” writes Prof. Damon. Discuss as a family how what you are doing is meaningful to you, whether it be as a company manager or as a homemaker. You can share that what you are doing helps others, contributes to society, is your means of self-expression and personal growth, or even because it provides jobs to others. “It is motivating and inspiring for children to hear why their parents find their daily efforts significant,” he adds.

Despite the above efforts, there is always the possibility that your child might end up not having any passions at all. Dr. Fernandez assures that this is also okay. “There are people who are not really strongly inclined towards anything,” she points out. “They are the ones who graduate from college and apply for work anywhere and everywhere, and wherever they land is okay. These are people who are simply accepting of life, who are spontaneous, and open to different opportunities — and that’s fine. We need people like them in society too.” 

Ultimately, our teen’s life choices are theirs to make. As parents and educators, all we can do is cultivate a nurturing and supportive environment that will allow our children to choose the better options. It’s more important that we inspire rather than demoralize them, so that we provide them with a lifelong sense of wellbeing that will translate into confidence, security, and happiness. 

— Written by Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua of MindNation

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Featured Get Inspired Mental Health 101 Self Help

8 Ways To Raise Grateful Kids

Help kids develop an attitude of gratitude so that they will grow up to be happier, more positive, and more content with their lives.

As 2020 comes to an end, it’s time to start thinking about our goals and intentions for 2021 — not just for ourselves but also for our family. One resolution in particular that we would like to suggest — teach kids to be more grateful and less entitled. 

“Children become entitled when they always get what they ask for, when parents say ‘yes’ more than they say ‘no,’” says Maribel Dionisio, a parenting and relationship expert, author, and founder of the Love Institute, a pioneering company equipping couples, parents, and individuals with skills on how to have fulfilling relationships with those dearest to them. “When children are raised with everything handed to them, they grow up to become demanding, high-maintenance adults who are not equipped to handle life when things don’t go their way,” she adds.  

On the other hand, when children learn to be appreciative, responsible, and not take things for granted, they have better relationships with other people, can empathize more, are easier to please, and become generally happier in their later years. 

Below are some ways you can reinforce the importance of gratitude:

  1. Be mindful of your words and actions. You may be feeling proud that you are not entitling your children because you do not buy them every toy that they ask for; but an entitlement mentality can be shaped in other ways, some of which you may not even be aware of, such as: 
    • Attributing other people’s actions to their character and not because of outside forces. When your kids complain that someone took the last cookie without asking, don’t immediately say “Yes, he’s a bad boy, don’t be like him.” This teaches children to be judgemental and quickly blame others for their misfortunes.

      A better way to manage such situations would be to ask your children to think about what the other person may be going through or how they might be feeling, i.e. “Maybe he took the cookie because he didn’t get to eat lunch and is really hungry.” This act of empathizing makes kids stop immediately seeing others as bad, and makes them more grateful for their circumstances (i.e. at least they are not THAT hungry).
    • Overprotecting and overpraising them. The first will make them dependent on you, the second will make them feel that they can do no wrong. 
    • Jumping through hoops to make sure their path to success is paved for them, so they never have to work hard to get what they want. 

2. Set a good example. Kids learn a lot from watching their parents. So model gratitude every chance you get, such as offering a sincere “Thank you” to the person who delivers your packages or making it a point to share little things that you are grateful for during casual conversations. 

3. Be encouraging and positive. “When you catch your children doing good or beyond what is expected, praise them for it; don’t always focus on the things they did not do,” says Maribel. For example, if your toddler packed away four out of his seven toys, don’t scold him for not doing a perfect job; instead, tell him thank you for doing that, then remind or offer to help him pack the remaining items away. This reinforces the positive behavior and lets them know that what they do (no matter how small) is appreciated. 

4. Put things in perspective. Talk to your kids about those who are less fortunate, like the owner of their favorite restaurant who had to close shop because of the pandemic, or the people who lost their homes because of natural disasters. Understanding that not everyone has the same advantages will help them develop compassion for others and gratitude for their own privileges.

5. Let them do chores. Part of feeling gratitude is being aware of the effort someone else went through to give us something. One way to let your child experience this effort is to involve them in household tasks, such as making the bed, folding the laundry, or helping prepare meals.  “Chores reduce entitlement because it helps children see the value of work,” Maribel points out. “In addition, children learn to be responsible, feel more confident, discover their strengths, and see the value in their work.” 

6. Show them how to find the money. It can be hard for children to understand why they can’t just buy everything they want if they have never paid for anything. “Give your children opportunities to manage money, whether it’s giving them an allowance, helping them start their own business, or even paying them for doing extra chores,” says Mariblel. “When they see the time and effort it takes to be able to buy a new item of clothing or new gadget, they won’t feel entitled about money.”

7. Establish boundaries. “Do not let your children get away with everything,” Maribel instructs. “Have rules, and explain the importance of these rules so that your children cooperate. And if they deviate from rules, counter with logical and natural consequences, not with screaming, shouting, or spanking because these will only make them resent you.”

8. Cultivate a good relationship with your child. All of the above tips require you to be able to talk to your children openly, honestly, and without judgement. To achieve this, Maribel suggests the following ways:

  • Set aside one-on-one time for each child, at least 20 minutes a day. Make the conversation light and easy-going so that he or she opens up to you about what’s on their minds, and you in turn can share stories that impart the values of empathy, gratitude, and kindness. 
  • Set aside one-on-one time for each child, at least 20 minutes a day. Make the conversation light and easy-going so that he or she opens up to you about what’s on their minds, and you in turn can share stories that impart the values of empathy, gratitude, and kindness. 
  • Set aside one-on-one time for each child, at least 20 minutes a day. Make the conversation light and easy-going so that he or she opens up to you about what’s on their minds, and you in turn can share stories that impart the values of empathy, gratitude, and kindness. 

The only way children will learn gratitude (along with other positive values) is by having a relationship with them that is open, honest, and managed by boundaries. “When we do away with limitations and give our children everything they want because we want their lives to be easy, it is OUR lives that become complicated,” says Maribel. “On the other hand, when children feel loved, respected, and secure, they will not misbehave or feel entitled. They will want to return those loving feelings to you, absorb the values you impart,  and do everything to make you happy.”

If your children are struggling with strong emotions or if you need advice on how to manage their wellbeing and happiness, feel free to drop us a line on our FB Messenger chat helpline. We are open 24/7 and the service is free, secure, and confidential. 

For more information about the Love Institute, visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/theloveinstituteph/

— Written by Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua of MindNation

Categories
Self Help

8 (Other) Effective Ways Parents Can Practice Self-Care

If you’ve been taking breaks throughout your work-from-home-day, no longer need to remind your kids to be quiet when you are napping, and manage to squeeze in some exercise in-between doing household chores — congratulations! You have made self-care a part of your life and are on the right track to experiencing reduced stress, more energy, and increased resilience. 

How about trying a few other ways to destress, decompress, and reward yourself? We’ve compiled some suggestions for you: 

  1. Watch a different genre on TV. We all love our Hollywood movies and sitcoms, but how about trying out some new categories for a change? If your goal is to temporarily escape reality, Korean dramas, cooking shows, and home improvement shows will surely take you there. 

What we recommend: “Start-Up” if you are a K-drama newbie, “Nailed It,” if you want a comedic baking show (yes, there is such a thing!)  “Tiny House Nation” if you want tips on how to live simply.

  1. Engage in light reading. Reading is good for your brain but that doesn’t mean your bedside table has to be stacked with Pulitzer-Prize winning works or other serious tones. Romance novels, comic books, and other forms of light reading do not tax a brain that’s already tired from a full day and provide much-needed stress relief.  

What we recommend: Dilbert and Calvin & Hobbes comic books for humor; anything by Julia Quinn for romance; the Trese comic series for action and a fresh take on Philippine mythology.

  1. Build something. When you work with your hands to create something from scratch, you trigger your brain’s reward centers and experience pleasure, which leads to reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. 

What we recommend: Lego and other construction blocks if you are a beginner and need step-by step guidance; jigsaw puzzles if you’ve had more experience; plastic model kits (i.e. Tamiya, Bandai) if you are up for a challenge. 

  1. Dress up, just because. Holiday parties may be put on hold because of the pandemic, but there’s no law against jazzing up your looks in the comfort of your home. Nothing will make you feel better faster than the sight of you in the mirror looking well-groomed and stylish. 

What we recommend: Set aside one day of the week (i.e. Fancy Fridays) where you and your partner will both swap the loungewear for dressier choices, complete with styled hair and makeup for the ladies. 

  1. Pop some bubble wrap. Odds are you’ve amassed quite a bit from all the orders that have arrived from your online shopping. Instead of putting them straight into the recycling bin, spend a few minutes popping the row of bubbles. What makes it so pleasurable is the instant gratification you receive from pressing out all the air; studies have even shown that popping bubble wrap for 60 seconds relieves as much stress as a 33-minute massage!

What we recommend: Another way bubble wrap can bring relief — cut up big sheets into the shape of your shoes and use them as shoe inserts the next time you have to go out to purchase essential items. Instant foot massage! 

  1. Cook or bake something simple. Both activities can help improve mood by providing small tasks to focus on in a manner similar to meditation. Let’s also not discount the sense of accomplishment you get when you smell or taste the end result of your kitchen experiment. If you find the prepping or cleaning to be a chore, round up the partner and kids to help out — instant family bonding time!

What we recommend: If you’re a beginner in the kitchen, start with store bought cake mixes that only need a few additional ingredients to yield the finished product (less mess to clean up too!) If you want to try your hand at cooking, we love Laura Vitale’s Youtube videos (laurainthekitchen.com) because the recipes are beginner-friendly but no less yummy.

  1. Keep physically close to your partner. According to Hans Delos Reyes, a MindNation wellness coach, positive physical contact with a partner can increase your mood and decrease your stress levels. 

What we recommend: If privacy is hard to come by because the kids are home ALL day, you and your partner need to get creative and even go easy on some of the household rules. Put them to bed earlier than usual, or wake them up later in the mornings (because 1-on-1 time does not only have to happen at night). If you can only spare an hour in the middle of the day, let them play with their gadgets or watch tv longer, then find other spots at home where you can have privacy.   

  1. Take care of plants. There’s a reason more people are buying plants during the pandemic. “It’s not just a trend, it is also a good way to take care of yourself,” says Hans. When you expose yourself to nature, you help the body increase melatonin, which is responsible for regulating sleep and lowering stress labels. “In addition, watching your plants to grow provides you with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction,” he adds.

What we recommend: Don’t have a green thumb? Try puttering with succulents first, which are inexpensive, don’t take up a lot of space, and are low-maintenance. 

Always remember that self-care isn’t just important, it’s crucial. Practicing self-care doesn’t make you weak; it helps you stay strong and recharges you so that you can care for your family and do your work better. 

Written by Jac of MindNation