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, be overwhelmed by house chores, plus, trying to be the perfect parent.
Flash news: There is no perfect parenting. There is no one-size-fits-all guide to become one. What parents can do is try their best and hope for the best outcome. At the same time, putting in mind you are their children’s role model. Your parenting style can significantly impact the child, especially their mental health.
What’s more challenging is raising your child to have the best mental health while you are personally experiencing a mental health problem yourself. For mothers and fathers in a rough mental state, read this article to know how to protect your child’s mental health while taking care of yourself.
Adverse 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 types of negative events are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). These events are traumatic that can have lasting impacts on children’s mental health. What are these situations?
Situations considered as Adverse Childhood Experiences:
- Experiencing or witnessing violence, neglect, or abuse at home or 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 have an unhealthy relationship
- Witnessing 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, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), or suicidal thoughts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates Adverse Childhood Experiences cause 21 million cases of depression in the U.S. It could have been easily avoided if the immediate intervention of parents were done. It is a given fact that parents should provide a stable home for their children. While also ensuring understanding social norms, teaching them life skills, building healthy relationships, and becoming a productive adult.
Do Mental Health Problems Of Parents affect The Children?
Research shows, children whose parents with 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 illness of the parent. 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.
The Genetic Link of Mental Illness
Mental health disorders are not contagious; however, research shows there is 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. This does not say that if a parent has bipolar, their kids may have it too. Mental illness is caused by genetic and environmental factors (e.g., relationships with families, adverse childhood experiences, etc.).
The Stress On Children
Children who witness how their parents battle with 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 stress. 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 children’s life. This may also affect their physical health, academic performance, ability to form healthy relationships, learn healthy coping mechanisms, and build mental resilience.
The 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 maybe embarrassed about what’s happening. The child may act out, which will show in their behavior.
Children Worries About Their Parents
Children who understand their parent’s situation worry too. The everyday worries of a child or teen are their school works, changing bodies, or relationship with friends. But when a child worries about their parent’s wellness, these are big feelings that are hard for them to digest. They mature faster than peers their age.
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 may be taken away.
What Can I Expect From My Child?
The 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 seeing negative outcomes when they grow up. Children may feel:
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 blame you for why they have a difficult life. On top of that, they may be angry with the world, questioning why this is happening to them. Your child might be mad at him/her self too, asking questions if they caused their parent’s illness. Children need to talk to a therapist as early as possible when there are feelings of anger.
Your child may fear what the future will be like, if your mental state will affect your parenting, or you may not 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 him/her about their concerns, and reassure them you love them no matter what.
The child may also feel guilty, worried he/she may cause your mental illness, even though it’s not, especially in mothers who experience anxiety or depression. Children may also feel guilty and choose not to share their problems, worrying it may make the situation worse.
The child could feel sadness when the parent is sick or hurt, even though they may not fully understand the context of the sickness. A child 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 A Child While Caring For Myself?
Parenting is hard, and there’s no question about that. Parenting is a 24/7 job; even if your child grows old and moves out, you are still a parent. But parenting for mothers or fathers who silently battle with a mental illness is a different process. Self-care is key, so you can give the best care your child deserves.
What can you do? First, seek treatment from a mental health professional. Second, talk to your partner if 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 it 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. How do you protect your child’s mental health?
- Recognize symptoms of anxiety or depression in 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 mental health outcomes
- Seek support from family members, relatives, trusted friends, and school teacher
- Join a support group of families in the same situation or a religious community
All these factors have proven effectiveness in protecting a child’s mental health. Eventually, build resilience and coping mechanisms when growing up. Know when to seek help and aim to protect your child from developing mental disorders. Remember to be positive, and 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, and this should be the initiative of a parent or another family member. For a parent trying their very best to keep it together, never hesitate to seek support. A therapist can give you advice about parenting and how to deal with your problems. Seek online counseling services from Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC).