Mental Illness Awareness Week is Oct. 1-7, 2017. Though often
overlooked due to entrenched stigmas, awareness of childhood mental illness is
on the rise. Lately, celebrities like Academy Award winner Emma Stone, Olympian
Michael Phelps, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge are speaking out to
rise awareness on the issue.
And for good reason. According to the Child Mind Institute, out of the 74.5 million
children in the United States, an estimated 17.1 million have or have had a
mental health disorder — more than the number of children with cancer, diabetes
and AIDS combined.
High-profile influencers are helping eradicate stigma by raising awareness and
showing struggling children there is a brighter future ahead. But how can
everyday parents and caregivers build stepping stones to childhood mental
health? By providing children with an environment that demonstrates love,
compassion, trust, and understanding.
Here are a few ways parents and caregivers can lay the foundation for
confidence and future mental wellbeing.
Foster Safety and Support
Comfortable, secure spaces make children feel at ease trying new
things, accepting fun challenges, and focusing on what’s important: being a
- Arrange your space wisely. The way you organize your child care space can make a difference in how children behave. Pay attention to where behavior problems occur. Set up shelves and other furniture to divide the room into separate learning and play areas. This will help children find activities more easily.
- Explain and model how to carefully handle books, toys, and other materials. Even very young children can learn to treasure books, to turn the pages gently, to carry them carefully, and to read them in special places. Repeat this message and give children plenty of opportunities to practice.
Build Positive Relationships
Staff and parents who are caring and responsive role models, and
clear and open communicators, help children create warm and trusting
- Provide opportunities for children to play
together, solve conflicts in productive ways, and participate in group
activities. Examples include gardening, cooking (under proper adult
supervision, of course!) and open-ended pretend play.
- Utilize activities that allow multiple groups to play at the
same time, including open-ended activities like unit blocks, magna-tiles, LEGO
bricks, play dough, and sensory tubs.
- Encourage curiosity of reading and math through
supportive activities and interactions, like lemonade stands or pretend-play
restaurants (including notebooks to write out orders, a cash register to pay,
Enhance Accessibility And Inclusion
Welcoming, convenient spaces allow children of all abilities,
cultures, and backgrounds feel at home and feel like a valued part of our
- Employ activities that encourage sensory
experiences for children with varied needs. Some great examples include water
tables (increase interest by adding food coloring or soap), sand boxes (small
sifters, cups, funnels, and colorful rocks can add to the learning), office
supplies (shredded paper, packing peanuts, or colored paper clips), and
classroom/household items (large beads and buttons, cotton balls, or kitchen
utensils are items that children can explore).
- Reflect cultural and individual differences
without promoting stereotypes. Children of all ages and capabilities enjoy
music, so start by teaching songs and dances from different nations of the
world. Children will see that all people like to sing and dance, but every
group has its own special ways of doing it. Talk with the children about how
different music sounds: loud, soft, fast, or slow. Listen for the different
Making a child feel safe, loved, and trusted is great way in
invest in his/her long-term mental health — during Mental Illness Awareness
Week and all year round.