Mental wellness is one of the primary discussion points of our current world. This can only ever be a good thing — it helps to reduce stigma and creates avenues to treatment. However, our society is far from perfect in this regard. As a father living with a mental health condition, you likely know there are still significant aspects of stigma attached to your experience. This is exacerbated by a prevailing toxic view that men are supposed to remain stoic through their challenges, and fathers must always demonstrate outward strength. The result is men are generally less likely to seek treatment than women, leaving them vulnerable to negative consequences.
It’s important to understand this approach to mental health doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help your children. Unaddressed illness is also known to have direct consequences on your kids’ wellness. Rather, taking a mature, responsible, and open attitude to mental health is a route to keeping yourself healthy and your family relationships positive. In fact, it is instrumental in providing your kids with valuable tools with which to approach their own mental health now and in the future.
We’re going to take a look at how you can pass these lessons on to your children while also taking care of your healing.
One of the most important lessons you can teach your children about mental health is the value of support. Be visible about this. It’s not easy to show your kids you’re struggling with your mental health, but it’s so important to demonstrate seeking help.
Your efforts should show all forms of support, not just professional mental health services. Discuss and illustrate your efforts to reach out to family, friends, and community leaders. Where possible, you should make a point of reaching out to other dads. This helps you and other fathers form a mutually beneficial network. In your kids’ eyes, it also demonstrates a different, healthier impression of the positive impact dads can have on each other when they open up.
It’s also important to show your kids that support isn’t just one way. Indeed, it can also be good for your personal mental wellness to be a positive influence on others. Some communities have started to provide mental health first aid training aimed at giving locals the tools and knowledge to offer emotional assistance to those in need. The framework of this training is designed for use in a variety of scenarios, including during emergencies, at school, and in the workplace. Attending this kind of workshop together with your children can be a positive bonding and educational experience for you both. Not to mention you each gain tools to help yourselves at times of crisis and be instrumental in assisting others who are going through difficulties.
There is no quick fix for your mental health. Working through your neurological, behavioral, and emotional challenges takes time and effort. You know this, and your kids need to understand it, too. Part of your lessons here should involve introducing them to the development and use of appropriate coping mechanisms.
This begins with the day-to-day efforts you make to maintain your mental wellness. Let them see what activities you pursue and talk to them about what it is about these that help you to feel a little better. Talking about this may also provide you with better insight into why certain activities are important and how you can explore them further. Where possible, find activities you can do together, like exercise routines or creative projects. This both shows them the value of coping mechanisms and helps you both forge closer bonds.
Mindfulness can be a particularly effective approach. It’s not only a useful coping tool, it’s also beneficial for your children’s development. Indeed, mindfulness is increasingly being recognized as a tool that can help children in their educational settings. After all, the same stillness of mind helping you to be fully present and gain perspective on your challenges can be useful when learning or maintaining focus. You can start to introduce them to techniques to achieve mindfulness, like guided meditation, breathing exercises, or just listening to the world around them. It can even be a positive step to talk to your kids’ teachers about this forming part of classroom routines, helping develop your children’s daily practice while having a positive impact on their classmates too.
You know the reality of mental illness is you’re not always going to overcome the challenges perfectly. There will be days the symptoms are more difficult than others, times the darkness or anxiety can be too overwhelming. You don’t give up, but you might not be as functional as you’d like to be. The lesson to teach your kids here is that this isn’t a failure. Rather, you’re showing how vital it is to treat yourself with kindness.
Talk to your kids about the importance of permitting yourself to take time and space away from the stress of the world. This should also address the wisdom of setting boundaries. For instance, there may well be days you don’t feel up to facing the world, but instead, spend the day bingeing streamable media you enjoy. When performed very occasionally, this in itself is not an unhealthy behavior and can be a good way to mentally unwind and detach from difficult experiences. However, when this transforms into heavy bingeing, it can be harmful, even contributing to symptoms of depression and anxiety. As such, you should demonstrate to your kids how you’re being kind to your mental wellbeing but also acting in moderation to prevent it from negatively impacting your life.
As a father, how you cope with your mental health can have an influential impact on your children. It’s important to put measures in place to make sure that as you handle your
challenges, these can be valuable teachable moments. Your willingness to be open about your mental health, support systems, and mechanisms can help your kids develop their own tools. It also sends a message that mental illness is something to be discussed and addressed rather than hidden away.