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Top 10 Parenting Tips for Good Mental Health

1. Self-Care

‘You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup’

As a parent, we are often so busy attending to everyone else’s needs, that our own may be neglected. But, as a flight attendant will tell us, you need to secure your own oxygen mask first. If you’re feeling exhausted, depleted and stressed, then it’s a struggle to find the energy and the focus to provide for anyone else.

Self-care doesn’t have to mean booking yourself into a luxury spa for the weekend, (although, wonderful if you get the opportunity) it may just mean an hour in the bath or 10 minutes with a cup of tea and a good book. Its just the opportunity to take a breather, reset, restore and refill your energy cup.

Prioritise the basics- There may not be time to pamper, but do make sure your basic needs are met every day.

Sleep: Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night.

Eat: Try not to skip meals and ensure you eat a healthy balanced diet.

Time for Yourself: Remember you are important too!

More Time for Yourself: Take some extra time each day to do something you enjoy that’s just for you. Make it a regular time slot and build it into the daily routine so everyone knows that’s your time.

Check out your local library for books about healthy eating, or pick up a novel for your ‘me time’ relaxation.

2. Connect

There have been many studies conducted into human connection and loneliness. We need each other! Now more than ever, its vitally important to stay connected, even if that’s through digital means, if we can’t see each other in person right now.

Build a Support Network: Reaching out to friends and family when we crave company and conversation is mutually beneficial.

Socialise: Reaching out doesn’t have to just be for emotional support, make time to just chat, have fun, share jokes etc with your friends.

Talk: Make time for each other at home each day, just to talk, put away the phones and switch off the screens and settle down for a chat.

Read: Reading together is a brilliant way to connect, whether you are reading to your little ones or older children are reading to you.

Ask at your local library about good books you could read together, they may be able to recommend some books that help specifically with talking about feelings, or maybe there are some books that can support you too.

3. Quality Time and Praise

Time and Attention: The greatest gift you can give to your children is your time and attention. Children need to know that they are loved, special, important and you are proud of them.

Play: Take time every day to switch off all distractions and just play with your children – let them set the agenda and lead the way.

Praise: Positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment.

Active Listening: Children need to feel heard and to know that their thoughts, ideas and opinions matter and are respected. Give them your full attention, you may want to summarise or reflect back what they’ve told you so they know you’ve listened fully.

For older children listen to what they are saying and also what they are not saying. Watch out for behaviour changes that may be a warning sign that something’s up. If they don’t want to chat face to face – starting a text or post it note chat may feel more comfortable. It may help to do a shared activity that provides a distraction and avoids eye contact that may feel uncomfortable.

Listen without judgement- children need to know you will support them unconditionally- even if you don’t always approve or agree with them.

Check out activities in your local library such as story time or rhyme time you can do with little ones. It helps to create a lovely bond between you. A family trip to the library to choose your books is an enjoyable activity you can all do together.

4. Exercise and Nature

Exercise releases endorphins that aid in relieving stress and anxiety, reducing pain and generally making us feel happy. Any exercise is effective, even dancing around the kitchen or a gentle walk or yoga routine.

Encourage your children to be passionate about fitness. Children have a lot of energy so this is a really good way to burn up some of their energy reserves so they are not leaping all over the furniture! It helps work through emotions, letting out frustration and to burn off some steam after sitting in a classroom all day.

Go on a family bike ride, take a walk in the forest, play football on the beach, practise martial arts together in the garden or dance to some favourite music.

(Always consult a GP or health and fitness professional if you have concerns about your health prior to starting a new fitness regime.)

5. Meditation and Mindful Moments

A meditation practice creates an opportunity for stillness and grounding to the present moment. Many people find that anxiety, fear and uncertainty melts away.

If you imagine a snow globe after it has been shaken – that represents our minds as we go about our day, full of business and juggling tasks. Once the snow globe settles and you can see clearly, that’s kind of how meditation works, there is calm and clarity.

You can create mindful moments throughout the day by just trying to bring your focus to one single thing at a time instead of the snow globe effect. For example, just doing the cleaning, cooking or washing the car can bring the opportunity to focus your mind on your actions and gently pull it back when it drifts onto other things. If your work day is stressful- taking 5 minutes out to meditate may just help your mind settle and find the solutions you need or calm you down so that you feel less panicked and stressed. You may want to try out some breathing exercises that can help with this.

Walking meditations are a great way to get into the soothing vibes of nature. Try this as a family activity or alone. Take time to really look at and study a flower, a tree, a leaf. Talk about what you notice – use different senses touch, smell.

6. Enjoy

Laugh: Include time for leisure and indulge yourself in activities you enjoy and things that make you feel good.

Get Creative: Creativity is a wonderful outlet for expression so you may want to spend time sewing, drawing, baking, writing, singing or anything that allows your imagination to flow.

Learn a new skill: Self- development is great for finding purpose, building resilience, gaining self-confidence and potentially making new friends or creating new opportunities.

7. Routines and Boundaries

A structured routine for the day may help provide focus and purpose. During the Coronavirus pandemic, the prospect of an unknown amount of time in lockdown, can seem overwhelming, so routine can help with taking things a day at a time. However. This also helps cut the overwhelm in our normal day to day lives too.

Children thrive on routine; it makes them feel safe and secure. Particularly when anxiety levels are high, as they have been for many recently, routine provides a slice or normality and predictability to cling to.

Boundaries may seem like you’re laying down the law, which may be uncomfortable for some people. You may wish to get the family involved and write some family rules and boundaries together, this creates a ‘buy in’ and ensures everyone knows what the family values are and what is expected of them. Try to stick to the boundaries you’ve put in place as once you give in once its easy to keep doing it. Decide what standards you want to commit to and the consequence if someone crosses the line.

8. Good Enough

You Are Enough: There can be a lot of pressure on parents with high expectations and seemingly unachievable standards. As parents, we may feel that we want to achieve perfection for our children, but sometimes it’s enough to just be ‘good enough.’

Children need to be loved, safe, cared for and provided for. YOU are the perfect that they need- your time and attention matters way more than if you hoovered today and if you can sew a book day costume (although – amazing if you can).

Self-Acceptance: When you are finding things difficult, it’s time to up the kindness and love you show yourself and not push harder or criticise yourself for not achieving what you would normally be able to. Your capacity for what you can achieve changes each day according to how you feel in yourself and the circumstances you find yourself in. Accept yourself right where you are today, trust that you are doing the best you can and celebrate yourself for what you have accomplished.

9. Positive Attitude

It’s not always possible to control the current situation, but you can control how you react. To gain control, fill yourself up with thoughts that create certainty and hope.

Power up resilience and coping skills through positive affirmations, indulge in activities you enjoy, stay connected with the people that make you feel good and accept yourself right where you are.

The more good thoughts you can plant, the more good feelings will bloom.

Gratitude: Even in the most difficult situation, there is always something to be grateful for. The more you actively seek things to appreciate, the more things you find to be grateful for.  Gratitude is a superpower for uplifting mood. Even if you are not feeling good when you start, gratitude helps to shift mindset and raise positive energy.

Some people choose to make this a reflection at the end of the day or keep a gratitude journal, or you can just notice and appreciate things as you experience them.

10. Support

It’s important to take good care of yourself and your children, but when the going gets tough, or it’s more than you can manage, it’s important to ask for help from those close to you or seek professional support if required.

Talking about how you feel with someone you trust can really help you to process your feelings, gain support and try to work out what the next step should be.

You GP is a good place to start of you are feeling anxious or depressed. They can advise you and support you on the best course of action.

There are many charities including Dorset Mind that provide online information including support line numbers.

Thank you to our amazing volunteer, Wendy, for writing this article!

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