Nurturing children's mental health
Counselor Toolbox

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20 Ways to Nurture Children’s Mental Health

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~ Identify 25 ways to nurture children’s mental health
Children’s Mental Health
~ Children need to feel
~ Safe
~ Emotionally
~ Physically
~ Competent (efficacy)
~ Able to succeed in school
~ Able to succeed in managing emotions
~ Able to succeed at …
~ Confident (esteem)
~ Lovable for who they are
~ That they belong

How does NOT feeling these contribute to mental health issues?

~ Sleep and Sunlight
~ Help set your circadian rhythms and vice versa
~ Circadian rhythms regulate (feeding, sleeping, stress) hormones
~ Lack of sleep  fatigue, irritability, low distress tolerance, poor concentration
~ Sunlight produces far more bioavailable vitamin D
~ How much?
~ 3-6 Years Old: 10 – 12 hours per day (8p-6a)
~ 7-12 Years Old: 9 – 11 hours per day (9p-6a)
~ 12-18 Years Old: 8 – 10 hours per day (10p-6a)
~ Create a sleep routine
~ Evaluate sleep hygiene

~ Eliminate Caffeine
~ Caffeine stimulates the HPA-Axis leading to a perpetual state of stress
~ Caffeine has a half-life of 5-8 hours
~ Chronic caffeine intake
~ Has been shown to increase serotonin and acetylcholine and inhibits the release of GABA, which contributes to our feeling of alertness.
~ Reduces the number of active receptors (tolerance)
~ When it is stopped, the brain’s abundant supply of happy chemicals is abruptly cut off and the person feels depressed.
~ Reduces cofactors necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis
~ Inhibits the absorption of iron and B-vitamins involved with the synthesis of serotonin, dopamine and GABA
~ People often use caffeine to compensate for inadequate sleep

~ Nutrition
~ Provides the building blocks to make neurotransmitters responsible for mood, motivation, libido, concentration and energy.
~ Maintains a healthy gut microbiome to help produce 80% of the neurotransmitters and prevent leaky gut (
~ Deficits of specific nutrients (i.e., vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, iron, zinc, and calcium) are associated with lower grades (CDC)
~ Interventions
~ Involve youth in creating a weekly menu
~ Encourage maintenance of an online food diary
~ Eat colorfully (Yellow, Red, Green, Blue/Purple/Black, Brown)
~ Start a hydroponic (or regular garden)
~ Keep fruits and chopped vegetables easily accessible

~ Exercise
~ Higher physical activity and physical fitness levels are associated with improved concentration and memory.
~ Time spent in recess has been shown to positively affect students’ attention, concentration and classroom behaviors
~ Consider the motivation of behaviors
~ Brief classroom physical activity breaks (i.e., 5-10 minutes) are associated with improved attention, concentration, on-task behavior, and educational outcomes
~ How much
~ Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. (moderate=50-70% of max HR, vigorous =70-85% max HR)

~ Relaxation and Recreation
~ Many youth get up, go to school, come home, do homework until 8 or 9 o’clock then go to bed with little time for true relaxation.
~ Relaxation is the state of being free from psychological and muscle tension
~ Techniques to calm the HPA-Axis and Teach Self-Regulation
~ Guided Imagery (even to space)
~ Yoga, Tai Chi
~ Progressive Muscular Relaxation
~ Deep breathing
~ Screen for
~ Autism: 1:59 (CDC)
~ Developmental Delays: Cognitive, social and emotional, speech and language, fine and gross motor
~ Learning disabilities impact up to 10% of children
~ Must watch for differential dx Asperger's Disorder, and Other Common Misdiagnoses and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children
~ Mood disorders (NIMH) Depression 3%; Anxiety 8%; PTSD 4%
~ Thyroid Disorders
~ 4.6% of the U.S. population age 12 and older has hypothyroidism
~ Hypothyroidism is one of the most common causes of intellectual disability
~ Help children learn
~ Identify how they learn best and teach them how to modify their learning
~ Auditory/Visual/Kinesthetic
~ Reflective/Active
~ Apply what they learn to things that are important or useful to them
~ Newton’s laws
~ Biology and the NWF
~ Nutrition and broken bones
~ Hand washing and staying healthy
~ Structure and Limits
~ Let children know you care
~ Help children learn to self regulate
~ Create consistency and predictability in a sometimes chaotic world
~ Interventions
~ House/Class Rules (Bring/Make rules list for vacation)
~ Review rules regularly (before getting out at the park or at grandma’s)

Environmental- ACES
~ Reduce exposure to:
~ Direct or indirect physical, verbal or sexual abuse or neglect
~ Family members with addictions or mental health issues
~ Caregiver loss
~ Interventions
~ Self care
~ Regularly discuss children’s feelings and thoughts if a family member has a mental illness
~ Connect with children daily, even if from a distance
~ Military—write letters ahead of time and give them to stateside partner to give to children each day/week

~ Safety—Emotional and Physical
~ Ensure children’s environments are:
~ Free from threats to their physical safety
~ Free from bullying or verbal abuse
~ Rich with images (social media, television, music, posters etc.) that help them feel safe, special and included
~ Dr. Seuss Oh The Places You’ll Go
~ The Middle by Jimmy Eat World; Confident by Demi Lovato
~ Inclusive television shows
~ Adults in the environments need to be responsive to the needs of children
~ Safety—from Internal Critic
~ Teach children about negative self-talk
~ Do not model negative self talk or use global criticism
~ Teach children to:
~ Separate fact and feeling based reasoning
~ I feel stupid therefore I am stupid
~ Focus on objective facts
~ Identify and address things over which they have control
~ Develop skills to accept that which they have no control over.
~ Attention and Unconditional Positive Regard
~ Unconditional positive regard for who they are as people, not what they do
~ Authentic praise and genuine interest (They can tell)

~ Communication Skills
~ Assertiveness
~ Role play
~ Insist on using the I feel ___ because ____ with objective language
~ I feel angry because you won’t let me stay out after midnight.
~ I hear you are frustrated and I realize it seems unfair, however, I believe that it is important that you get adequate sleep and you can see your friends tomorrow.
~ Effective listening (paraphrasing)
~ Do not just ask “Do you understand?”
~ Insist on eye contact
~ Healthy Boundaries
~ Are critical for healthy relationships, increasing self- esteem and reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
~ Boundaries set a clear line between what is you and what is not you.
~ Help people not get drained by always giving, being unable to say no and seeking approval from others
~ Emotional
~ Taking responsibility for other’s feelings and problems (Not my circus)
~ Letting other people’s feelings dictate your own
~ Sacrificing your own needs to please
~ Blaming others for your problems

~ Ask for Help
~ Social support is one of the greatest buffers against stress
~ Help can come in the form of encouragement, empathy or assistance
~ Asking for help does not represent weakness
~ Encourage children to ask for help when needed
~ Help children learn how to find appropriate assistance
~ Appreciation of Individual Differences
~ Temperament: Help them synergize
~ E/I (People and environment)
~ S/N (Conceptualization)
~ T/F (Motivation)
~ J/P (Time management
~ Talents
~ Public speaking
~ Sports/physical activities
~ Science and math
~ Art
~ Mindfulness and Emotion Identification
~ Children who can identify vulnerabilities and emotions can intervene before they enter the red zone.
~ Mindfulness activities
~ Model emotional vocabulary with the “I am feeling ____ because” to help children not personalize and become learn to use feeling words
~ Prompt mindfulness– “It seems like you are not happy. What is going on?” “I am ____ because ____”
~ Body scan (Energy, sleep, appetite, pain/discomfort, urges)
~ Many children somaticize their emotions
~ Encourage visual, olfactory, auditory triggers for happiness
~ Make a collage of “Things that make me happy”

~ Distress Tolerance
~ Tests, doctor’s visits, break-ups, not getting asked to a dance, someone being mean
~ Help children learn to wait to act in their wise mind
~ Make a list (poster) of distraction options
~ Activities (coloring, watching fish, talking, tearing/shredding)
~ Opposite emotions (do something that makes them happy)
~ Push it away (Write it down and put it away, throw a bunch of balls)
~ Sensations (Catharsis, ice, wall sits, splash cold water)

~ Problem Solving
~ Children who can solve their own problems feel much more empowered.
~ Use scaffolding to help them solve real-world dilemmas
~ What is the problem?
~ Janie and I got into a fight.
~ I do poorly on my tests because I get so nervous
~ What are possible solutions?
~ Stop being friends, continue to be friends, become frenemies
~ Drop out of school, learn to manage my anxiety, get accommodations
~ What are possible interventions for the solution you want? …
~ Self-Efficacy by experiencing success
~ Teach them how to set SMART goals
~ Overall goal: Be class valedictorian
~ Specific: Get a A in chemistry
~ Measurable: Yes
~ Achievable: Yes but I will need to set aside 1 hour a night to study and get afterschool assistance from my teacher
~ Relevant: Yes
~ Time Limited: Yes. 1 semester
~ Psychological Flexibility
~ What kind of person am I (values worksheet)
~ What does it mean to be…compassionate, loyal, creative
~ Do one thing each day that is…
~ Who and what is important to me
~ Family
~ Reputation/popularity
~ Friends (which ones)
~ Work/School (GPA)
~ Activity (football, band, piano, tae kwondo)
~ How do I feel right now and why. (Angry because I don’t want to study. Embarrassed because Sally posted a photoshopped pic of me)
~ How could I solve this problem in a way that will help me get closer to what is important to me.
~ Cognitive Distortions
~ All or Nothing
~ Find exceptions or solutions
~ Fallacy of Fairness
~ You may not have caused it, but you have to fix it.
~ Use psych. flex to address the effectiveness of staying angry.
~ Magnification—Mountains from molehills
~ Evaluate the facts
~ Minimization of the positive
~ Remember the positive things
~ Personalization
~ What parts were your responsibility

~ Learned Optimism
~ We are wired to pay more attention to the negative for survival
~ This leads to a negative outlook
~ This prompts us to be more aware of the negative things that happen and interpret events with a negative filter.
~ Interventions
~ Positive journaling
~ Dialectics
~ Living in the AND
~ Gratitude Wall
~ Self Esteem
~ Radical acceptance of strengths and weaknesses
~ Unconditional positive regard
~ Attention and authentic praise
~ Appreciation for synergy
~ Helping children prevent vulnerabilities and enhance mental health by
~ Helping them address cognitive and emotional issues
~ Ensuring they have a safe environment
~ Teaching them healthy interpersonal skills so they can get support when needed and prevent getting burned out
~ Children need to feel like they are loved, they belong and they are capable at home, school and in relationships

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