There’s one thing all parents agree on: to see their children live a successful, healthy, and long life. But the parenting journey to reach this goal is a long and rocky road. Parents can easily be caught up with busy work schedules and overwhelmed by house chores while trying to be the perfect parent.

There is no such thing as perfect parenting; there is no one-size-fits-all guide to becoming one. What parents can do is try their best and hope for the best outcome.

At the same time, you should bear in mind that you are your children’s role model. Your parenting style can significantly impact your child, especially their mental health.

What’s more challenging is raising your child to have the best mental health while personally experiencing a mental health problem yourself. If you’re a mother or father in a rough mental state, read this article to learn how to protect your child’s mental health while taking care of yourself. 

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Their Impacts on Children’s Mental Health

If a child experiences difficulty in life, whether it’s emotional distress or family turmoil, it may take a toll on them in different ways. These negative events are called adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). These events are traumatic enough that they can have lasting impacts on children’s mental health.

Situations considered as adverse childhood experiences:
  • Experiencing or witnessing violence, neglect, or abuse at home or in the community
  • Having a family member or close friend committing or attempting suicide
  • Parents or family members who abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Parents getting divorced or having an unhealthy relationship
  • Witnessing the mental health problems of a family member
  • Poverty or homelessness
  • Poor parent-child communication
  • Poor parenting behaviors
  • Hostile or aggressive behaviors of parents
  • Childhood sickness or injury

If a child experiences one of these adverse events, it does not necessarily mean they will develop a mental illness. However, it does increase the risk of developing anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or suicidal thoughts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that adverse childhood experiences cause 21 million cases of depression in the US. It could have been easily avoided if the parental intervention was immediately done.

It is a given fact that parents should provide a stable home for their children, while also ensuring understanding of social norms, teaching them life skills, building healthy relationships, and becoming a productive adults. 

Do the Mental Health Problems of Parents Affect the Children?

Research shows that children whose parents have mental illness may experience emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, it may be difficult for them to understand the parent’s illness. This type of situation is out of the kid’s control but is definitely something parents can manage.

So how do the mental health problems of parents affect child development? Here’s what parents should know. 

Mental health disorders are not contagious. However, research shows that mental illness may have a genetic link.

Children of parents who have a mental illness have a higher risk of developing a mental disorder. Bipolar disorder, for instance, may run in families. But this does not mean that if a parent is bipolar, their kids will be, too. This is because mental illness is sometimes caused by both genetic and environmental factors (e.g., relationships with families, adverse childhood experiences, etc.).

The Stress on Children

Children who witness how their parents battle a mental illness may experience stress. For example, a parent experiencing depression may cry every night or may not cater to their children’s needs. These are things children do not understand and might cause them to get stressed.

Growing up in this environment can take a toll on a child’s mental health. This puts the children at higher risk of developing a mental illness themselves. In addition, poor parent-child communication may lead to resentment.

These parenting difficulties can stress out a child and affect other aspects of the child’s life. This may also affect their physical health, academic performance, ability to form healthy relationships, how they learn healthy coping mechanisms, and how they build mental resilience. 

Mental Health Stigma

Then there’s the stigma surrounding mental health issues. They may fear being bullied at school, discriminated against by friends, feel anxious about the situation, and may be embarrassed about what’s happening. The child may act out, which will show in their behavior. 

Children’s Worries About Their Parents

Children who understand their parent’s situation worry, too. The everyday worries of a child or teen are their schoolwork, changing bodies, or relationships with friends.

But when a child worries about their parent’s wellness, it means that they mature faster than peers their age. They may not be able to cope with their worries well, as these are big feelings that are hard for them to process.

They tend to step up on what their parents miss out on doing, like taking care of their younger siblings, cooking, cleaning the house, or for some, working to support the family. A child can also worry about asking for help for their parent’s mental wellness because of the fear that their parents might be taken away or that they might be taken away from their parents. 

What Can I Expect from My Child?

Mental resilience during childhood and the early teenage years is not well-formed yet. Some adults even find it hard to build their mental resilience. What more young children?

What should parents with mental disorders expect from their children’s reactions? It is better to know early rather than see negative outcomes when they grow up. Children may feel:

1. Anger

This may be hard to swallow, but your children may feel angry with you. They may be blaming you for having a mental disorder or making their life difficult. On top of that, they may be angry with the world, questioning why this is happening to them.

Your child might be mad at themself, too, asking questions if they caused their parent’s illness. Children need to talk to a therapist as early as possible when they exhibit feelings of anger.

2. Fear

Your child may fear what the future will be like, if your mental state will affect your parenting, or if you will not be able to take care of them anymore. There’s also the fear of what other people might think because of the stigma surrounding mental health.

If you feel your child is scared, sit down, talk to them about their concerns, and reassure them you love them no matter what.

3. Guilt

The child may also feel guilty and worried they may have caused your mental illness, even though they did not, especially if their mother experience anxiety or depression. Children may also feel guilty and choose not to share their problems, worrying that it might make the situation worse.

4. Sadness

A child could feel sadness when the parent is sick or hurt, even though they may not fully understand the context of the sickness. Your son or daughter may feel sad, especially when there are considerable changes at home, like routines, living situations, witnessing abuse, or neglect.

This may lead to childhood depression and should be addressed immediately. Talking to a mental health professional is very helpful in this case.

How Can I Care for My Child While Caring for Myself?

Parenting is hard. There’s no question about that. Parenting is a 24/7 job; even if your child grows old and moves out, you are still their parent.

But parenting for mothers or fathers who silently battle with a mental illness is a different story. Self-care is key, so you can give the best care your child deserves. So what should you do?

First, seek treatment from a mental health professional. Second, talk to your partner about what you can do to approach the situation. Third, if you’re a single parent, reach out to a family member to help you with raising your child. Lastly, if you feel your child is old enough to understand this situation, explain the issue to them.

How to Protect Children’s Mental Health

Adverse childhood experiences can indeed have negative outcomes on a child’s mental health. Although this is not the case for all, being aware of these factors and keeping an eye on your child is a step in protecting their mental health.

Protect your child’s mental health by observing the following:

  • Recognize symptoms of anxiety or depression in your children.
  • Let them feel they are always loved.
  • Do not lash out or avoid angry outbursts when your child is around.
  • Try to create a positive environment at home.
  • Try family therapy for better to improve the entire family’s mental health.
  • Seek support from family members, relatives, trusted friends, and school teachers.
  • Join a support group for families in the same situation or a religious community.

All these strategies have been proven effective in protecting a child’s mental health. Eventually, they help build resilience and improve your child’s coping mechanisms as they grow up.

Know when to seek help and aim to protect your child from developing mental disorders. Remember to be positive and that you can be a good parent even if you’re struggling with mental health problems. 

Seek Help from a Therapist or Counselor

Children have no control or resources to seek help from a therapist, so this should be the initiative of a parent or another family member. Never hesitate to look for support, especially if you’re trying to keep it all together. A therapist can give you advice about parenting and how to deal with your problems. Seek online counseling services from Kentucky Counseling Center by booking an appointment now.

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