Helping our children cope with the stress and stresses of everyday life is more important than ever. Figures released last November by NHS Digital show a worrying increase in youth mental health issues; Unfortunately, my experience as a general practitioner confirms this. In England, one in eight children aged five to 19 has a diagnosable mental health problem. The prevalence of emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression, has increased by 48% since 2004. "The pressures that young people face range from school stress to bullying and worries about the prospects for youth." employment and housing, including concerns about body image, "said Emma Saddleton, Charity Support Manager. YoungMinds.
Although we may not be able to eliminate all these challenges, we can pass on skills to help young people cope with stress and adversity. "It's called resilience," says Saddleton. "The ability to overcome and be positively shaped by difficult experiences." Our brain responds to the information around us so that resilience can be taught, modeled and maintained at any age. "By doing this, through strong support networks and encouraging communication, we can help young people understand when they feel depressed and what they can do to feel better," she says. .
As a parent myself – I have an eight-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter – it's something that's prominently on my agenda, and I've found some effective techniques. Above all, they do not require you to reform your parenting style, but simply to make some adjustments that will help your children flourish.
Have an individual encounter with each child, without distraction
I have a full-time job, two school kids and an elderly mother that I have to take care of, so I understand we're all busy. I'm not trying to bet on guilt. But I will never forget what my daughter, then four, said one day. We were working on a puzzle, but I did not stop watching the kitchen in the kitchen to check my phone. When I joined her for the third or fourth time, she rightly remarked, "Dad, you're not really there, are you?"
Resilience comes from relationships; the children need to be fed. It is not a magical "inner strength" that helps children through difficult times; instead, it is the reliable presence of a supportive relationship, whether it is a parent, a teacher, a family member, a family friend, or a health professional. My essential point is that quality matters, not quantity. Ten minutes of fully focused attention is better than an hour when you think of something else. If you're on your tablet at the dinner table, you teach them that you can always get distracted. And that they are not important enough for your attention alone.
Individual time is not necessarily an already busy schedule. Make bath time, car rides, meals, queues. Chat, listen, talk about your feelings, encourage them to express theirs. Once these individual encounters become regular, your children will know that they always have a safe space to open.
Give sleep a chance
I see so many children who have trouble sleeping, wake up tired, with dark circles under the eyes. A lack of good quality sleep is a determining factor of stress: it has a negative effect on memory, concentration, cognitive function and decision-making.
One of the fastest ways to improve sleep – for all of us – is to limit the time spent in front of a screen before going to bed. The type of blue light emitted by digital devices suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals the body that it is time to sleep. In addition, watching the screens before going to bed keeps us emotionally wired and stimulated, making disconnection more difficult.
It's a strong parent who can totally ban technology, and I do not think it's necessary. But I urge you to ban appliances at least an hour before bedtime. Turn off the wifi, if necessary. (Television is not so bad if you need it as a compromise, we tend not to sit so close to the screen.)
Earlier in the evening, emphasize that everyone uses "night mode" on their devices, which turns the blue light into a warmer glow. You can download applications that do it (such as flux), too, or buy blue-light glasses. It is also interesting to change your children's night lights to red lights – red has the least impact on melatonin production. When I did this in my children's room, they slept over an hour later the next morning.
Go out and do some exercise
We all know that physical activity is important and that most of us, including children, need to do more. But what if I told you that in addition to keeping them physically fit, exercise will increase your child's resilience? It really strengthens the brain.
It is well established that exercise is at the same level as drugs in the treatment of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. This could be due to the fact that the body is used to moving more fluidly in and out of the stress state. The same hormones released when we are stressed (cortisol and adrenaline) are temporarily lifted when we exercise. Regular physical activity teaches our stress response system to recover more effectively.
Photography: Keila Batista / EyeEm / Getty Images
It can be very fun to do this together, and I learned that children do what they see us doing, not what we ask them to do. I am a big fan of "nibbling movement" – short periods of exercise throughout the day. I'll put the radio on before dinner and we'll all dance in the kitchen. Or my children will join me to do squats, star jumps, bear crawls or frog jumps. The more stupid I am, the more they seem to enjoy it.
Teach delayed gratification
Resilience means understanding that you can not always have what you want whenever you want. This is an important concept to convey in the era of Amazon Prime, Spotify, Netflix and Uber. Psychology teaches us that people who can accept delayed gratification lead a happier and healthier life. Without the ability to defer pleasure and reward, our children lose an important skill for their well-being.
One of the best ways to teach it? Play board games. These require pulse control, cornering and mental flexibility. They exercise the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain involved in decision making, emotional regulation and, yes, resilience. Board games are also a good way for you to model resilience by being a good loser.
But the other ways to encourage delayed gratification are not lacking: learning a musical instrument; listen to entire albums instead of jumping from one track to another online; master a new sport; even watching a TV series together week-by-week, instead of bingeing on two sessions.
Eat the alphabet
Nutrition has a significant impact on mental health. Good quality food changes the composition of our intestinal insects, which helps send calm signals to the brain. Poor, highly processed food sends out stress signals instead. A varied, high fiber diet will result in a greater diversity of our intestinal insects, which will help us become more resilient, and make anxiety and depression less likely. Persuading children to eat healthier may seem like a difficult battle, especially if they are difficult, so there is no question of becoming a great leader – just try a few tips that may actually be of emotional benefit to them .
I like to challenge the whole family to "eat the alphabet" for 30 days. I think it's a realistic goal to consume 26 different plant foods in a month: A for asparagus, B for banana, C for chickpeas, and so on. It makes healthy eating a game and encourages kids to try new foods. Make it a competition and see who can tick all the letters first.
Model of gratitude
Instead of harassing your kids with questions such as "How was school?" And "What were you doing today?", Teach them to crop their day.
The following is a game that I learned from a friend, who played it with his daughter during dinner. Everyone has to answer three questions:
1) What did one do today to make you happy?
2) What did you do to make someone happy again?
3) What did you learn today?
I like this simple exercise that helps us all to find the positive in everyday life. He teaches gratitude, nurtures optimism and recognizes kindness. It does not matter what happened at work or school, or the stress that one of us may have felt when we sat down at the table; the mood seems to reign once we've played this game. I'm learning things about my kids that they probably would never have thought to tell me otherwise. Try it It could be the highlight of your day.
• The stress solution (Penguin, £ 16.99), by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, is available. For more details on upcoming events, visit the site drchatterjee.com/events. Chatterjee is the host of the iTunes podcast number 1, Feel better live more.