5 Tips for Taking Care of Your Family’s Mental Health

By Rebecca Bauer
Friends and Family Support. A young woman comforts her best friend from stress and depression. The mother supports her daughter in a difficult situation. Vector illustration

May is Mental Health Awareness month! To celebrate, National PTA’s podcast, Notes from the Backpack, has released a new healthy minds miniseries comprised of five new episodes, all focused on helping your family improve their mental health and social-emotional well-being. Here are some of our favorite tips from the experts we interviewed. 

1. Normalize Talking About Mental Health

Families need to be able to talk about important issues like mental health and it’s especially helpful to have these conversations proactively. Model healthy social-emotional habits by sharing how you are feeling and asking them to do the same.

Remind children that there is no shame in mental illness and it’s important to get help, just like they would if they broke their arm. You can learn more about reducing mental health stigma by listening to our conversation with mental health advocate, author and podcaster, Allison Raskin

2. Note Any Changes in Your Child’s Behavior and Address Issues Head-on

When it comes to serious mental health issues, families will need outside support. In our interview, Dr. Doreen Marshall offered a helpful metaphor: 

If my child was complaining about a sore arm, I might think, okay, is this serious? Let’s keep an eye on it. But, let’s say their sore arm was starting to impact their ability to do things, or let’s say they were complaining that it was hurting them nonstop and it was keeping them awake at night. I would tune in that something may be a little more wrong here and need some outside support. 

She also encourages families to connect with a professional as soon as they can. If it’s difficult to get an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist, your pediatrician can be a good place to start. 
Get more ideas by listening to the full conversation with Dr. Doreen Marshall, VP for Mission Engagement at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

3. Partner with Your Child’s School

School counselor Chandrai Jackson-Saunders asks parents to be present and actively engage in their children’s school lives. The return to school will be a big adjustment for many children, but families can make this transition easier by communicating openly with children’s teachers about struggles and successes. 

Chandrai shared, “a guardian is the most important person in the life of that child. Take that level of responsibility and the role, that power, all around the school. It makes us better professionals. It makes us more responsive and it really does help us do our job.”  

You can get more tips on improving your family-school partnership from Chandrai Jackson Saunders, NASP’s 2020 School Psychologist of the Year, by listening to the full podcast episode. 

4. Take the Pressure Off Your Kids 

Even before the pandemic, kids and teens were struggling with high levels of anxiety. From navigating relationships with peers and family dynamics to the world of career options and college admissions, it’s not easy being an adolescent. Dr. John Duffy’s biggest piece of advice was for parents to listen without judgment.

More often than parents realize, teens feel rejected for the decisions they make, whether it’s something large like succumbing to peer pressure or something minor like their taste in music. While it’s challenging, it’s crucial that families put their own opinions aside in order to create authentic connections and build trust with their kids. 

Discover even more advice from psychologist and author, Dr. John Duffy, in the full interview

5. Take the Pressure Off Yourself! 

Parents want their kids to be happy, but you know what? People aren’t happy all the time—and that’s okay. Clinical psychologist and author Dr. Shefali encourages conscious parenting, which is an approach that helps parents recognize how they are projecting their own inner wounds onto their child. 

Dr. Shefali offered a helpful, personal example about her 18-year-old daughter, which illustrates how you can de-escalate catastrophic thinking and manage your frustrations: 

She’s literally the only one of her entire friend group who is not driving. So I’m like, what is wrong with this chick? Or what is wrong with me? Why is she so slow developmentally? Is something wrong with her? But I know by now after 18 years of having this internal conversation, that these things are self-imposed and I’m not playing God, and actually, it’s such a relief, that she’s not driving and that she’s taking her time. I now have a greater degree of trust, that children will develop when they’re meant to. And, if they are not meant to have that experience, it is not my responsibility, to quote-unquote, expose them to every life experience. Maybe she would be a person who takes the bus and isn’t that more environmentally friendly?  

You can explore conscious parenting and how it can help you develop healthier parenting habits in our full interview with author and psychologist, Dr. Shefali. 

Take some time this month to check in with your family’s and your own mental health. Listen to the full mental health miniseries of Notes from the Backpack: A PTA Podcast and discover more mental health resources at PTA.org/HealthyMinds.

Rebecca Bauer is a family engagement manager for the National PTA Center for Family Engagement.

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