‘Whenever you call him, He hears you and whenever you whisper to Him, He knows your whisper. You place before him your needs, unveil yourself before him, complain to him all your worries.’
This week marks Children’s Mental Health week and the theme for 2023 is connection.
Human beings crave connection and are designed to connect. Establishing meaningful connections with the world around us, whether family, friends, peers or the community supports good health and wellbeing. Children and adults alike can easily feel lonely and disconnected at times but 1 in 2 people with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms before the age of 14. Mental health in children and young people has seen a stark dip in the last few years due to the pandemic and now it is estimated that 1 in 6 children is suffering with a mental health difficulty.
As parents we may worry while feeling helpless or ill equipped to support our children but we need to know that we are invaluable in helping our children and teens emotionally regulate and find calm. In many cases we can help them to regain control and change their outlook with some simple interventions and shifts in how we interact with them.
So why not try these 5 connection tips and see if they enhance mental health for all the family:
- Connection with Allah– As we celebrate the birth anniversary of the commander of the faithful, Imam Ali (AS) we are reminded of his advice to his son Al-Hasan in sermon 31 of Nahjul Balagha that ‘no connection is more reliable than connection between you and Allah provided you take hold of it’. And ‘Whenever you call Him, He hears you and whenever you whisper to Him, He knows your whisper. You place before Him your needs, unveil yourself before Him, complain to Him all your worries.’ Teaching our children to connect with Allah in this way helps them feel supported in their troubles while showing them it is ok and normal to have worries. Praying together or reading Quran or Dua as a family can enhance connections within the family and with Allah and can be a period of calm and tranquility for all. As parents we can help our children understand the beauty of Allah’s names through our interactions with them, the way we show them mercy, love and forgiveness makes Allah more tangible for them.
- Connection with oneself –Children undergo many experiences every day at school, with friends and at home and not forgetting, online. Some of these will be negative and processing the emotions associated with these experiences can help the child learn from them and move on stronger rather than remain stuck in negative thought cycles. As a parent, talk openly with your child about their feelings regularly, help them check in with themselves and be more aware of their thoughts and emotions.
Give the emotion a name e.g. sadness, anger or frustration. Help them see their thoughts as passing clouds which can be observed as they pass without holding on to.
- Connection with a parent or care giver. If you are a parent of young children, make yourself aware of the concept of ‘emotional attachment’. Emotional attachment in the early years is an important part of healthy development encompassing feelings of safety, protection, belonging, comfort, reliability and positivity. Children look for these in an immediate care giver and the fulfilment of these elements allow the young child to explore the world from a secure base. Evidence shows that it is enough for a child to have one attentive and compassionate care giver to provide this secure attachment and which will be protective for them as they grow. Whatever the age of your child, make an effort to be present –make eye contact, give them a reassuring hug and greet them positively in the morning, after school and at night. Our beloved prophet was openly affectionate and showed high emotional intelligence with his family and especially his children and grandchildren and he is the best of role models for us.
- Put away your phone when there is an opportunity to connect with your child. Show them you are present and value their attention. This models attentiveness for your child too
- Reading to your child or listening to them read is another valuable way to connect. This will strengthen bonds as well as allow you to explore values and themes from what you are reading
- Meal times are a great opportunity to share stories, worries or events or even just to pick up cues that something is wrong. It may not be possible to eat together every day but make an effort to do this more where possible.
- Seize the opportunity to share a funny story about your day or something you learned. Or even an unusual fact! Your child will appreciate the bid for connection even if they do not say so
- Connection with nature – As the days grow longer, spend some time outdoors especially at the weekend. The healing powers of nature have been proven to have a profound impact on our wellbeing, giving us a feeling of connectedness with something far bigger than ourselves and providing calm and perspective. The sense of awe we get outdoors has also been linked with greater wellbeing through reflecting on what is around us. We can encourage our children to really use all their senses, look at the colours of the beautiful flowers, smell the grass and hear the birds. Spending time in nature also provides the opportunity for seeing where our food comes from, giving rise to a sense of gratitude. In addition to this the luminescence of light, measured in Lux is far higher outdoors than indoors (1000 on a cloudy day to 1000,000 on a sunny summer’s day) compared to around 200-500 indoors. This has a profound impact on setting our sleep rhythm and decreasing sleep problems. And better sleep means better physical and mental health.
- Connection with others – Help your child connect with the wider family and like-minded friends. If you are lucky enough to have this, a young aunt or uncle have been shown to be a great source of fun and support if children are at an age they are reluctant to talk to a parent. Another way to connect with others and gain a sense of belonging is through a sports or activity club. This can build meaningful friendships as the child nurtures their skill, while having many benefits. Those who engage in sports clubs for example find it has enhanced their wellbeing. You can read more here – Sports, the Community and Our Children | Muslim Family Hub. You can also help or suggest to your child that they find a way to be of service to others, to volunteer in the community or teach a skill they have. If you already do this yourself, your child is likely to admire that and aspire to community involvement themselves. This can apply to even young children who can help in age appropriate ways. This embeds a feeling of self-esteem, collaboration and kindness. It is strongly recommended in our faith and helps build strong bonds as well as teaching skills like patience, resilience and building stronger communities through the collective efforts of all.