One of the primary responsibilities you have as a parent and one of the greatest gifts you can give your child, is to help them develop their gifts fully, so they can build their lives around whatever fulfills them. Being fully aware that kids mental health is a large factor in who they become and their happiness is key to this equation.
Another wonderful aspect of being a parent is helping them through emotional milestones, learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems.
Of course, this kind of self-awareness takes finesse. As adults, we continue to develop our own self-awareness and it can be a lifelong learning process. Having a good grasp on your own mental health can make life easier when hardships head your way. Now, imagine that you had been developing a healthy state of mind and wellbeing since you were a child, you’d be pretty solid, right?
By cultivating a healthy mental state for your child, at an early age, you are setting the stage for a successful outcome in whatever they choose for their life. A powerful way to do that is to help them discover the core of who they are, what interests them, and how they interact with the world.
Why Kids Mental Health Awareness is Important
Children need to have a good mental health status if they are going to live up to their full potential. Research indicates that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, according to the American Psychology Association. Promoting mental health care and early intervention can play a crucial role in your child’s development.
While there are many nuances to how kids mental health issues develop, much of the basis for good kids mental health starts in the home and within family dynamics.
Parents who take the time to have clear, honest, and open communication with their kids about their mental and emotional health, report more happiness within their family relationship.
After all, communication between parents and their children is essential for building and maintaining safety, security, self-confidence, and productive relationships in their lives.
If you’re reading this thinking, “This is great, Mike but how the heck do I communicate with my child about their emotional well being? I can barely get them to talk about their day at school!”, I get it. I’ve worked with many parents who share the same struggle in getting their children to open up, which is one of the many reasons I created the Best Self exercise.
Kids aren’t always adept at being able to express what they are feeling, the Best Self exercise gives them a fun and easy way to share their inner world. I’ve had everyone from Elementary school kids to major celebrities do this exercise and it’s pretty amazing to see how helpful it can be for their personal growth and understanding of themselves.
I did the Best Self exercise with a group of kids and their parents at an elementary school in Los Angeles, California and it was eye-opening to see what they uncovered.
Here’s How You Can Help Your Child Discover Their Best Self
The Best Self exercise can be a fun discovery process to do as a family. It helps children identify their feelings and communicate them in a clear and creative manner.
What you’ll need to do the exercise:
- A few pieces of paper
- Crayons, markers, art materials
- An open mind
This should be fun; you can infuse this exercise with humor or it can be serious. The point is to let the exercise guide you and your child towards self discovery. It might take some time to develop and many people keep adding to their list as they cultivate more self-awareness. Soon you and your child are going to be looking at yourself objectively and embracing all your best traits!
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Start by Identifying their Best Self Traits
Think of your Best Self as who you truly and authentically are—anything that you find to be a positive trait or characteristics, of yourself. For kids, putting this into words can be an important step in self-identity and expression.
Here are some examples of questions you could ask to get started:
- Are you compassionate, optimistic, or imaginative?
- Do you act kindly towards others?
- Are you brave and speak up for yourself or others?
- Do you see the good in others?
- Are you a good friend?
Once you get the ball rolling, take 5-10 minutes to write out your Best Self traits together. Create a circle in the middle of a piece of paper and label it “Best Self”. Then, connect the bubbles to the “My Best Self” circle in the middle with your positive traits. You can reference the positive traits word bank below if you need some inspiration.
Create Your Best Self Character
Once your child has come up with several positive traits about themselves, it’s time to create their Best Self character. Based on the list of positive traits, have your child draw a character and give it a name. If it’s a stick figure, that’s okay! The point is to capture the essence of what comes to mind for them.
If they get stuck on what to draw, ask your child the following questions:
Is your Best Self…
- A particular gender?
- An animal?
- A mystical creature? Or a wise voice inside yourself?
- A character inspired by a book or movie?
- Does your Best Self have a motto or tagline?
- Does your Best Self behave in a particular way when someone is being kind to you?
- Does your Best Self behave in a particular way when you’re feeling threatened or afraid?
- What does your Best Self believe about you?
- Does your Best Self move/walk/dance in a specific way?
- What is your Best Self’s #1 superpower?
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Here’s an example of Sam’s (age 5) Best Self. He named him Super Sam and he is friendly, honest, caring, and helpful.
Identifying Anti-Self Traits
We all have a side of us that gets triggered by negative things like fear, anxiety, anger, etc. I like to call this, the Anti-Self. It’s the opposite of your Best Self. Another way to think of it is as your inner critic, that voice that provokes you and that gets in the way of your Best Self by focusing on your negative qualities.
Getting to know your Anti-Self characteristics and what makes them surface can help you to keep them in check. For children, uncovering the Anti-Self can provide an opportunity for them to understand when a negative behavior is in control of how they are reacting to a situation or experience.
Start by creating another Bubble Map and writing down everything you don’t like about your behavior when your Anti-Self is in charge. Use negative adjectives like “careless”, “irrational”, or “angry” in your bubbles and then connect them to the Anti-Self circle in the middle of your worksheet. If you get stuck during this activity there is a Negative Traits Word Bank to help you.
Create Your Anti-Self Character
Just like you did with the Best Self character, have your child draw their Anti-Self. Remember, this is an exaggerated version of yourself, so don’t be afraid to make this character cartoonish. In fact, the more ridiculous your portrait, the easier it’ll be to remember the behavior you want to avoid in the future.
Once they’ve created their Anti-Self character, have a discussion with your child about how it shows up in their life. Have them think of a recent situation when their Anti-Self was in control. Ask them to think about how it behaved compared to what their Best Self would have done.
Sam also shared his Anti-Self, Sad Sam, who is lonely, angry, hurt, and lies.
Keeping both your Best Self and your Anti-Self in mind will help you step back and make better decisions when you’re triggered rather than simply losing it. You might find this tough at first but you will soon get better at it.
Purposeful Parenting Tools
Now that you’ve gone through the process of creating your Best & Anti-Self as a family, a good practice is to establish check-ins so you can keep the accountability going. Establish a routine, whether it’s around the dinner table or elsewhere, where you go over the good and bad parts of everyone’s day. Give space and time to give and receive feedback based on what your child shares. The idea is to share in each other’s joys and work through the tough stuff as a unit.
That said, remember–your child is their own unique person–they must learn from an early age how to connect with their Best Self and how to respond to situations accordingly. Children need to feel that they have certain power and influence within the boundaries you’ve created in your family. Setting aside “communication time” is a great way to establish that influence.
READ MORE: 12 Tips for Positive and Peaceful Parenting
Another practice I encourage is to start a purposeful gratitude list. Have every member of the family share something they are grateful for. It can be a short or long conversation, whatever works in the daily rhythm of your family.
A final task in your purposeful parenting tool box, is to create a Best Family priority list. Evaluate what the top 10 priorities as a unit are that allow your family to thrive together. Then create a list of the top 10 things that waste time in your household. Once you’ve compared the two, see if the way you are spending your time as a family is congruent with how you want to be living.
These are just some of the examples I use in my book, Best Self: Be You, Only Better to help families take inventory of their relationships with each other. Family dynamics are unique and varied and the most important advice I can impart to you is to find ways of communicating that feel authentic to your needs and circumstances.
Mike Bayer has been transforming and leading the way in mental health treatment for 16 years. Coach Mike is the founder and CEO of CAST Centers, a dual-diagnosis treatment center in West Hollywood, CA. Bayer is a Life Coach and the New York Times bestselling author of BEST SELF: Be You, Only Better (Dey Street Books). Mike is also the creator of the CAST Foundation, which raises awareness to promote cultural and social changes that destigmatize mental health issues. In addition, Bayer is the first regular on Dr. Phil in the last 17 years and is a member of Dr. Phil McGraw’s advisory board, making frequent appearances on the Dr. Phil Show as Coach Mike. Mike has been featured in numerous outlets including The Talk, Rachael Ray, The Doctors, Forbes, The Breakfast Club, Dr. OZ, People Magazine, and many more.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on Teaching Our Children Healthy Habits.