I seem to be working with an increasing number of youngsters in my clinic for issues such as anxiety, worry and low self esteem.
When it comes to children’s mental health, it is important that the parent follows the programme too, as they don’t realise the impact their own mental health has on their child. There are times in fact that I don’t work with the child at all and only work with the parent as this can be (often) even more beneficial than working with the young person directly.
In this blog I want to discuss the importance of the parents mental health in relation to their child. Even if symptoms are not mirrored (I’m not saying that a self harming child for example will have a self harming parent) many of the beliefs that the young person will hold will have been learned from their parents.
Understanding where mental health issues begin.
To understand why parental mental health is key to children’s mental health, it is first of all important to understand how mental health – good or bad- is created and developed in the first place.
Many people believe that good or bad mental health is down to luck of the draw. It’s something that is part of our make up and personality that is fixed and we just need to learn to live with.
This is absolutely not true.
Our mental health is created and maintained initially by the beliefs that we hold about the world around us, the way we interpret events and the way that we see ourselves. These beliefs are not reality. We can be sure of this because everyone sees the world and what is happening in a different way. Individuals focus on different aspects of their experiences and respond in a very individual way.
Let me give you an example – If I put 20 people in a room with a dog, every single person would see the dog in a slightly different way and feel a different way about the dog. This will depend on what they believe about dogs and the information they have gathered since this belief was established. One person may see the dogs waggy tail and fluffy coat and think “Oh my goodness, that reminds me of my Gran’s old dog! I want to go and fuss it”. While another person may see the sharp teeth and claws and think “This is making me feel really uncomfortable. I don’t like it. If those teeth sink into my arm I’ll freak out!”
Every experience is interpreted differently and the emotional outcome therefore is different too. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it ‘There are no facts. Only interpretations.’
So depending upon the beliefs you hold about events, the world and yourself, will be responsible for the outlook you have. The more you interpret situations in a certain way, the more you will continue to do so in the future.
If you have developed a way of interpreting things in an unhelpful, out of control way, then is it any wonder that we feel anxious and unhappy and that life is happening to us? After all, there are people experiencing similar situations but that process them in a helpful and in control way that are not feeling anxious or depressed.
How do parents have an impact?
The fact is that many of the beliefs we hold about the world and how we fit into it are learned and copied from our parents. It is very likely for example that if you have a parent that is scared of dogs; you will have a child that is scared of dogs. If you have a parent that is always trying to lose weight and talks about not going out of the house without make up; you are likely to have a child that believes you have to look a certain way to be “acceptable”. This holds true for our beliefs about culture, relationships, gender, politics and most other things.
How the child builds on these initial beliefs will be down to their own interpretations and experiences and this is why the outward behaviour and responses may not match those of the parents. But the skills that they develop to cope and manage situations, events and emotions will be learned too.
No parent would like to believe that they have in some way been part of creating a mental health issue in their child. All parents want the best for their children, of course they do. But parents are not usually aware of their own unhelpful beliefs or responses and therefore, it is not a purposeful act that these things are passed on.
This is why many people hold beliefs that depression or anxiety is ‘in the genes’ or ‘runs in the family’ (It’s not and it doesn’t by the way). But because those beliefs have been learned from one generation to another, there is no wonder that the family have similar ways of interpreting and responding to life.
How improving your own mental health as a parent can improve your child’s.
Once you understand the pattern of beliefs, thoughts and responses that you yourself have learned (regardless of whether or not you are struggling), then you will begin to see patterns of beliefs, thoughts and responses in your child too.
You will understand why you both think in the way that you do and you will understand WHY they are interpreting things in certain ways.
Because you will understand things in yourself, you will better understand it in them too. This means that you can challenge their unhelpful thoughts and beliefs in a much more helpful and in control way. You can teach them how to process their thinking to make it more in line with reality. You will be able to spot their unhelpful thinking styles and be able to talk about them and teach them how to change them all because you have learned to do so too!
There is no point getting help for your child without understanding yourself too because many of their underlying bricks to their mental health foundations will be learned from you. If they are working on trying to change them, but you still hold those unhelpful beliefs then what is likely to happen? They probably won’t do as well as they are capable of.
Want to help your child by helping yourself?
These beliefs and thinking patterns are easy to identify and easy to change with the right knowledge and tools. You simply haven’t learned them yet, but anyone can! Think of the impact of having that understanding and skillset could have on you and your family. You could break the chain and teach your children how to manage their mental wellness for the rest of their lives (and yours too!)
It only takes 6-8 sessions to learn these skills and understand how to change the unhelpful beliefs and thinking patterns of your past. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve faced, you can change it all from today.
Get in touch to book a free consultation to find out more about changing things for you, your children and the future generations to come.