Mental health became a priority of mine about 5 years ago. I grew up in a household where no one expressed their feelings, and there was little to no explanation around outbursts of emotions.
As an adult, I found myself slowly following that pattern. I didn’t address issues head on, and I was afraid to express myself. When I found out that I was pregnant with my son, Miles, I knew that I wanted to parent differently. I let go of my ego, desires, and behaviors and allowed Miles to lead me. Instead of forcing behaviors on him, I focused on my own language, expectations, and self-regulation.
In 2020, I went through so many emotions, and so did Miles. His kindergarten year was forced to end abruptly because of the pandemic. Our world had completely shifted, and there was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it. It was easy for me to retreat to “because I said so” parenting, but I knew — for his mental health and mine — it was important that we talked through things. I found my patience thinning. I knew I needed more for myself, so I upped my therapy sessions.
While I was learning ways to cope and manage my mental health, it helped me love Miles better. I was able to help him process his thoughts and feelings. It was important that I gave Miles an example of being healthy mentally so that it would become a priority of his. My partner Terrance and I have open discussions around what it means to put Miles’ mental health first. We often think about ways in which we can support Miles; it’s never, “If he has a problem with his mental health, what should we do?” It’s more of, “Let’s seek help now so if the problem does come, he will be equipped and ready to handle anything in a healthy way.”
I find myself thinking about how traumatic this world has been since he was 5 years old, and I would be naïve to think that Miles hasn’t been affected by it in some ways. We found out early on that Miles was empathetic, sensitive, and wore his heart on his sleeve. He won’t share what’s wrong unless you ask.
Mental health check-ins are important for him. I use language like, “How are you feeling?” and, “How can Mommy support you today?” just so that he knows I am here to support him, and he can share with me without judgement.
According to Mental Health America, there are a few things children need to maintain good mental health:
- Unconditional love from family
- Self-confidence and high self-esteem
- The opportunity to play with other children
- Encouraging teachers and supportive caretakers
- Safe and secure surroundings
- Appropriate guidance and discipline
There are also a few warning signs that indicate the need for professional assistance or evaluation:
- Decline in school performance
- Poor grades despite strong efforts
- Regular worry or anxiety
- Repeated refusal to go to school or take part in normal children’s activities
- Hyperactivity or fidgeting
- Persistent nightmares
- Persistent disobedience or aggression
- Frequent temper tantrums
- Depression, sadness, or irritability
Maintaining and having good mental health is so important, especially in the world that we live in today. In the last month, there have been multiple tragedies — and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t affected by them.
We live in a world that says that we must be strong and push through, but it is time that we let that go. Being strong means being honest and vulnerable about where you are and seeking professional help if you need it. I am not a perfect mom, nor do I get everything right, but mental health is a top priority of mine because I want my son to be happy, whole, and healthy. I am often reminded that I can’t want this for him if I am not where I need to be.
Additional resources for parents about children’s mental health can be found at Therapy for Black Kids.