It’s important to teach children how to keep their minds and bodies healthy. Learning healthy living skills in childhood and adolescence can help children manage stresses as they grow into adulthood.
The following strategies can help prevent problems with depression, anxiety and other difficult mental health symptoms. For those children and adolescents who have mental health symptoms already, these strategies can help manage symptoms and lessen some of the challenges they may face.
Lack of sleep can lead to some of the same symptoms as mental health problems, including: problems with concentration, fatigue and low mood. Too little sleep can exacerbate a mental health diagnosis.
Children and adolescents need more sleep than you might think. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following sleep schedule by age:
- Age 3-5 years: 10 to 13 hours, including naps
- Age 6-12 years: 9 to 12 hours
- Age 13-18: 8 to 10 hours
Exercise can be a very effective tool in helping to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Children’s bodies are made to move. Children should have at least 60 minutes of activity per day, which could include running, playing outdoors, or playing a sport. Without this activity, children can have symptoms that may look like a mental health problem or have their mental health symptoms get worse.
Bodies of children and adolescents continue to grow, and they need a well-balanced diet to support their development. When people feel depressed or anxious, they often crave foods that are high in carbohydrates, sugars and/or fat. In the end, those foods end up leaving kids feeling more depressed and anxious as their bodies process those foods. Having a more balanced diet will help children feel more comfortable and energetic.
Teaching children and adolescents healthy coping skills can be helpful in decreasing mental health symptoms. These skills can include:
- How to identify, name and talk about their feelings. All feelings are ok, it’s just what you do with them that can be unhelpful.
- How to take deep, full breaths to help their bodies calm down.
- How to solve problems. Let the children tell you what they might do, and guide them, rather than tell them.
- Giving targeted positive feedback to your children when you see them using positive skills or developing good social skills. This helps them know what they should be doing.
- Identifying healthy ways to deal with anger, such as drawing an angry picture, playing with clay, using words to express self, going outside to run around.
- Mindfulness and yoga can be helpful coping strategies as well. Learn more about mindfulness.
Excessive screen time can lead to weight gain and other physical and mental problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following limits for daily screen time:
- Children age 2-5 years: limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programming. Parents should co-view media to help them understand what they’re watching.
- Children age 6 and older: consistent limits should be set on the time and types of media. Parents should ensure screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health.
Social media can help teens connect to peers and communities that are important to them, but too much time spent online can lead to increases in feeling down and/or anxious. Teens can sometimes walk away from social media feeling much worse about themselves. Parents should monitor their children’s use of social media and have a conversation about how they feel after using it. Don’t be worried about limiting their usage if you see it causing problems.
Get mental health resources from CHOC pediatric experts
The mental health team at CHOC curated the following resources on mental health topics common to kids and teens, such as depression, anxiety, suicide prevention and more.