Recently, I came across a family photo that included myself, two of my sisters and my mom. I vaguely remember the day the photo was taken. I do, however , vividly remember the bush that we were standing in front of. It was a big, beautiful hydrangea bush that blossomed every spring in our front yard. I reckon my mom wanted a photo in front of the hydrangeas because they were in full bloom. I don’t remember how old I am in the photo, but I’m assuming I was in grade 2 or 3. My middle sister looks like she’s in grade 1, and my youngest looks like she’s approaching age three.
As soon as I glanced at this photo, it spoke a thousand words to me. It was almost as if it was a sign, for me to take a good, long look at it. The first thing that I noticed was I wasn’t smiling, and I looked kind of angry. The second thing that I noticed, was I was wearing all black. Thirdly, once I stopped analyzing myself, I noticed, that my sisters looked happy. They were smiling and wearing vibrant, bright colors. And even my mom, who I know, was stressed and worried at times, was still smiling.
Sometimes, I secretly wished that I could disappear. This photo clearly shows that this was one of those moments. Sometimes, I imagined myself turning invisible and flying over people’s homes, in hopes of meeting another girl like me, who was sad. I would meet her, and we would share all of our sadness and sorrows, and we would hug. We would hug one another extra tight and tell one another that we loved each other and that our secrets of being so sad and mad, would be kept between only the two of us.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance to become invisible and meet this other girl, instead, I held all of my anger and hurt inside of me. I was angry because I was the oldest in my house after my oldest sister moved away. I was sad because I wanted her to come back. I was angry because all the responsibilities that I felt I shouIdn’t have, I had. I yelled, I cried, and I even lied. In other words, I was hurt. This sadness, that I carried within, affected all areas of my life. The only way I knew how to cope with my sadness and anger, was to take it out on others. I took it out on my middle sister. Why did she get to be happy and care-free? It wasn’t fair. I took it out of the kids at school and became a school ground bully. I told many lies, trying to hide the life I lived. Apparently, I went to Disneyland and I was in every lesson that you can think of. The reality was my dance lessons were in my backyard and my Disneyland trip was a commercial.
In school, I was an avid reader, and my favorite subject was writing. When I grew up I told myself I was going to be an author. For the most part, I did very well academically, but every report card that I have looked back on, states that I was easily distracted. I would stay up late twirling my hair, around and around for most hours of the night. I would twirl and twirl in class, on my walks to and from school and any chance my hands were free. Twirling my hair become my coping mechanism to deal with all the thoughts and worries that were going on in my head, which was my anxiety, (that I didn’t know I had). I was extremely afraid of escalators, and elevators, and constantly worried when we were at a grocery store, that I would lose my mom. Around age nine, my coping mechanism to deal with my emotions, and depression was food. I would eat and eat and eat to make myself feel happier. I would get a comforting high from the three bowls of ice cream, followed by an emotional low of feeling bad about myself. This resulted in gaining weight and then feeling awful about my body image. My self-esteem continued on a downward spiral and my mental well-being continued to suffer.
It was my new-found love for basketball that helped me gain confidence in myself. Overcoming challenges on the court, and being a part of a team, made me feel important. My anger began to lessen and my self-esteem began to increase. When I was playing basketball, all the negative thoughts and worries I carried inside, would vanish. Another outlet that helped me tremendously, especially in high school was writing in a journal. When I would write down my thoughts as opposed to holding them all in, it would help me work through my internal struggles. In high school when I would go to the library to study, my social studies, or work on a science project, I would stray over to the self-help section, curl up in the corner and educate myself on how to get happy. I consider myself resilient for overcoming my mental health struggles at such a young age, and for coping with them on my own.
Taking a trip down memory lane, while I held this family photo in my hands, validated for me, why I’m an advocate for children’s mental health and well-being. My education in early childhood development, experience working and owning a child care setting and raising three children of my own, has helped me identify my childhood, with having some mild mental health symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. My siblings, on the other hand, did not suffer and I don’t blame my parents for my suffering either. They did the best they could, with the tools that they were emotionally equipped with, and education that they had.
Anybody’s mental health can suffer, regardless of their background, upbringing, or education. When we educate ourselves on the topic of mental health, we help end the stigma. When we practice daily habits that help promote positive mental well-being, we actively make our mental health a priority. Moreover, when we model the importance of taking care of our own mental health and educate our children on mental health issues, we enable our future generation to thrive, whether they are coping with an illness or not.
So, how can we promote mental well-being in our children?
I consider myself quite a resilient person for overcoming my mental health struggles, and coping on my own, especially at such a young age. Our children can be just as resilient too. We just have to let them navigate through some of their own struggles, in order for them to successfully face difficult situations. Life isn’t perfect and our children will face many challenging situations. It is their resiliency that will help them get through these challenges.
2. Get physical
When I played basketball in elementary school, it really helped decrease some of my negative self-image, and low self-esteem. Studies show that physical activity decreases negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and depression. Keeping our children engaged in physical activity, promotes healthy, mental well-being.
3. Practice positive reinforcement
Give your children positive feedback when possible. When you catch them being successful, validate them. This positive feedback will reinforce the positive behavior, making the child feel valued. When a child feels valued, they begin to feel more capable and confident.
4.Teach them the importance of helping others
When I took my hurt and anger out on others, it always resulted in me feeling immense guilt. However, when I helped the teachers with stuff around the classroom or was kind to the special needs children, I felt happy and good. When children help others, they give to our community, feel a sense of belonging and build their self-esteem. This good feeling they get from being kind to others fosters connectedness.
5. Be affectionate, and actively listen to your children
When I look back at my angry face in the family photo, I wish I could just grab my younger self and give her a giant hug! We all need affection. Sometimes, a hug is all someone needs when they are having a bad day, or facing a tough situation. When we listen to our children, instead of interrupting, our children will more likely communicate and confide in us, when they are having struggles.
5. Educate them on mental health
When we educate our children, we aid in breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health. When our children have this knowledge, it enables them to seek help if needed.
And finally, practice daily habits that promote mental well-being for yourself! After all, we can’t possibly teach our children to take care of their mental well-being, if we aren’t cultivating this behavior too.
For more information on mental health you can check out these sites: