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Teaching Your Toddler Positive Mental Health Practices

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

We are all now much more aware of mental health and the impact it can have on children, young people and adults but do we think enough about our young children's mental health and teach them coping strategies from an early age that will help them throughout their lives.

Talking to your children about their mental health doesn't mean you need to use the words mental health. Starting conversations and talking about emotions with your child will help them understand it's okay to have emotions. It teaches them how they can cope in different situations and be more resilient, and it will help them learn how to care for themselves both mentally and physically.

Toddlers quickly learn that when they fall over and hurt themselves they should tell an adult so they can check them over and take care of them physically. However, if a toddler is feeling uncertain about a situation it isn’t always their natural instinct to tell us so this is something that has to be learnt.

So how do we change it so that children who then grow into young people and then become adults instinctively know that talking and telling someone about how they are feeling will make them feel better and supported?

Teaching your child or children about mental health, feelings and coping strategies at an early age will help them extensively throughout their lives and it will ensure they realise the importance of caring for their minds and their bodies.

Teaching Your Toddler Positive Mental Health Practices

Some people think that talking about feelings and how you cope with feelings and emotions with young children could distress them or promote these feelings. However, we believe, and research has shown that if you talk about it in the right way and at the right times then it will help them to naturally cope in all types of situations growing up and as they become adults.

Talking to your children about mental health and how to cope with emotions helps them:

  • Be aware of their own emotions

  • Be aware that their emotions are always valid

  • Speak out about their feelings

  • Have a higher likelihood of staying mentally healthy in the future

As children progress through their different milestones they learn about their physical selves, their feelings and emotions and this is an essential element of their rounded development.

Children learn about emotions and feelings at a young age and with our help they can learn effective strategies to cope with them. By talking about emotions your children will learn and understand that whatever their emotions are, they are normal, everyone has them, why they happen and what they can do to make themselves and others feel better.

How To Develop Your Child’s Positive Mental Health Practices

During everyday activities acknowledge how they might be feeling as well as how you are feeling and start to name them. This can be using the words, happy, sad, confused, angry etc and this helps them understand that theirs and other people's emotions are valid. It's really positive for them to see that you as their loved one have emotions too and that they are valid and important to recognise.

Acknowledge with phrases like:

I feel really happy I have seen how our cake turned out

I feel a bit confused about what I need to do at work tomorrow

I can see that you feel sad and that your art hasn't come out as you wanted it to

It is brilliant this has made us laugh and I can see that you’re happy

This teaches them that it is normal to feel different emotions in different situations and it encourages them to continue to express their feelings rather than suppress them.

Children's emotional development is essential and although a lot of it happens naturally it is our job as parents and carers to support them and enhance how they react and deal with situations. Children retain information and learn behaviours extremely quickly and positive early learnings will set them up for happy and content adult lives.

Teaching your toddler through play and fun games is the most effective way for them to learn and retain information. They will also want to play again and they will be learning without even knowing it.

Playing benefits children in a variety of ways and according to research playing boosts a child's happiness and reduces their chances of depression and anxiety compared to watching a screen.

Emotion cards are a great way for children to learn how to outwardly show how they and others are feeling. Try them and you will see how much fun they and you have doing it. Start by printing or drawing faces on cards with different expressions. Get them involved with this part of it too.

Examples Cards:

Happy - a wide smile, smiling upward eyes

Laughing - squished eyes, big smile with tears

Sad face – downward smile, frown

Crying - tears and a sad face

Unhappy face – a frown

Scared face - a frown and gritted teeth

Angry – closed eyes, frowning eyebrows, teeth showing or a downward smile, a red face

When you have your cards:

  • Ask them to do the facial expression on the card they have picked themself

  • Ask them to describe how that person or they might be feeling

  • Ask them why they might be feeling like that. This is a great one to promote conversations around experiences they have had

  • You and the family should all get involved and also pick a card to do the same

Ask them questions like, how they feel when they are happy or when they're laughing. Ask them how they feel if they are sad or angry. Expressing and talking about it really helps a toddler to understand and ensure they can talk about their emotions which are paramount to positive mental health.

Ask them how they think they could help a person who is feeling sad and also talk about what they can do to help themselves if they feeling a certain way.

Don’t fire questions at them, use the cards as a way of having conversations with your children about their feelings and emotions, when they might have felt them and how they can feel better about them. Adults often find they learn things about themselves and their loved ones when these conversations happen.

Try using their favourite toys to roleplay different feelings (happy, sad, angry, scared or disappointed) as roleplay is a great way for children to learn. You can act out or talk about why the toy might be feeling like they are and what you could do to make them feel better. This also gives your child really good emotional engagement and an appreciation of others' feelings.

This type of play is a really memorable and fun way for your child to learn and remember. Always incorporate talking and opening up into the role play to show how this helps in these types of situations and show your empathy. Children naturally role play with their toys and you being involved will make it even more fun for them. They will see how you react to different situations and follow your lead, often reenacting it later themselves. This enhances your children's emotional engagement ih different situations and makes them aware of how they and others might be feeling.

The Importance Of Self Care

If you are unwell, you should tell your child you're not feeling 100 per cent and what you're going to do to give yourself some self-care. This might be slowing down a bit and spending some time with them. Telling a family member that you're not feeling well so they can look after you. Reading a book, going for a walk, whatever is suitable to how you are feeling let them know this.

When your child doesn't feel well or something is bothering them, encourage them to tell you or an adult they trust how they are feeling and talk to them about what might make them feel better. This could be relaxing quietly and reading a book, watching a film with you or a family member, doing some drawing, going out for a walk in the fresh air or a play in the park. This helps your child to learn the things that make them feel better, how to recognise when a situation hasn't made them feel very good and how to find a solution that will help them. The next day you should ask them how they are feeling now and did they think that the walk in the fresh air or the trip to the park helped them to feel better.

Talk About Emotions Freely At Home

Talk to your children and as a family about how you are all feeling, how everyone's day has been, what the best thing about their day was and what was the worst thing about theirs and your days. This encourages children and adults to talk about how they are feeling, different situations and how they have dealt with them.

Children learn from their parents and the people around them so talking is a vital part of learning about positive mental health for them. Let them know your day hasn't been brilliant and why so they see that it's OK to open up and not everything is always brilliant and happy. Talk about how it has made you feel and what you have done to be kind to yourself.

If you always hide these times from your toddler they will think that a bad day isn’t normal and it may then mean that subconsciously they won't tell you if they've had a bad day as they won't think it's normal. If you've talked about a situation at work or something that has made you feel sad or angry that day then also talk to them about how you’ve dealt with it. Tell them that just talking to them and your family has made you feel better.

Explain to your toddler that sometimes we can all have bad days and that's okay, but we should always talk about them and do something to cheer ourselves up.

We aren’t saying be completely honest about everything as there are some things you won't and shouldn't talk to your children about. By talking regularly as part of a normal routine, you will raise your toddler's awareness of feelings and emotions, and even if you don’t use the term ‘mental health’ it shows them that it's normal to feel like this sometimes as well as how to deal with it at home, school, socially and at work.

Teaching your children about feelings, emotions and mental health is very much the same and as important as teaching them about eating healthy food and being active to keep themselves healthy physically. By consciously doing it you are also teaching them how to keep themselves and others mentally healthy throughout their lives.

Talking to them and showing them that doing an activity or taking action will make you feel better ensures they learn this as part of their everyday life, and they learn that you can turn a bad day around by talking about it and taking action. This will help them throughout their childhood and adult lives and will have a really positive impact on their mental health.

The Flowers Day Nursery team are all dedicated to promoting positive mental health through conversations and actions and our learning activities incorporate our children’s mental, physical and educational development. If you have any concerns about your child's mental health then you can talk to us if they attend the Flowers Day Nursery. If your child doesn't come to The Flowers, speak to your doctor or care provider about it and they will support you and your child.

Young Minds is the UK’s leading charity that fights for children and young people's mental health.

They want to see a world where no young person feels alone with their mental health, and all young people get the mental health support they need, when they need it, no matter what. You can find them here:

Their Parents Helpline offers vital advice and guidance to parents/carers who are concerned about their child’s mental health. They can give you advice on:

how to access support

navigating services for your child

practical techniques that can help you and your child

signposting to other organisations

If you are a parent/carer in need of some help, please get in touch here.

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