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Thoughtful Parenting: Help transition from school to summer

Stephanie Monahan/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and Steamboat stretched it further with a June 5 showing of “Inside Out” at the Chief Theater. It was perfect timing. The emotions in the movie — sad, angry, excited and  nervous — get stirred up as we transition from school into summer. As schedules and routines change, how do we accommodate our children’s changing emotions and mental health?

Mental health allows us to manage our emotions productively, maintain positive relationships and cope with life challenges. Just as we must eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water and visit our primary care providers for annual exams and vaccinations, we must also take care of our mental health. As we tune into our own mental health, we must also support that of our children.

“Inside Out” illustrates how overwhelming emotions can be and how we can regulate them within our bodies. Social, emotional and behavioral health begins at birth and is the foundation for managing emotions, building positive relationships, supporting conflict resolution and fostering connections with others. At birth, children immediately start learning how to connect with others and calm themselves. Later, they learn to recognize emotions. To be successful, kids need support from caring adults.

As babies become toddlers, they interact more with other children. The more chances we provide them to play with other kids, the stronger their foundations will be for building healthy social and emotional skills. Routt County is fortunate to have parks, open spaces, programs and services where parents can bring children together and create a safe and supportive network.

Preschoolers and kindergarteners are learning how to help others, share and take turns. These skills don’t always come easy, but continued development happens as they navigate experiences and adults model ethical behaviors and sound conflict resolution.

At this age, it’s great to talk about feelings. When a child is unhappy, ask them what they are feeling. Validate and label their emotions, and then share how you might feel in the same situation. Together, brainstorm ideas to address options for behaviors and reactions the next time that situation arises.

In elementary school, children continue to learn social skills as well as verbal and written communication skills. This age can be harder for some kids as they seem so young at times and so grown up at others. Ask kids about their specific activities from school or camp. What games did they play? What projects did they work on? Give them opportunities to reflect and communicate about what they did and how they felt.

For more information, connect with First Impressions of Routt County, Connections 4 Kids in Moffat County, or visit these statewide resources at co4kids.org/community/new-early-childhood-mental-health-webpage-professionals-working-children-and-families.

Some say parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever love. It gives us the opportunity to love and support our kids, and it lets us learn about ourselves. On my son’s last day of school, I was reflecting on my journey through parenthood. For me, emotion regulation during everyday trying moments has been the most difficult part. When temper tantrums or boundary testing trigger me, I’m thankful for all of the community resources I’ve been able to access.

Parenting can feel especially overwhelming as we introduce new routines. We seek out a new group for answers and comfort. The Newborn Network, Nurse Family Partnership, Safe Care Colorado, Yampa Valley Autism Program, Integrated Community, Fatherhood Program, Partners and more create great spaces for bringing together families with kids of similar ages to learn from each other and help normalize the ever-changing parenting curriculum. The Early Childhood Education workforce supports our local schoolteachers and counselors to provide additional help for kids to grow and learn.

My parents and grandparents remind me that life and parenting is much different now than it was generations ago. The Yampa Valley has vital resources for helping us make big and small decisions. How do we manage or monitor new video games? When do we give our kids cellphones? Which summer camps are best for our kids? The programs in our community provide specific direct services, pack our parenting toolkits and offer reassurance by creating connections and opening lines of communication with other families.

Raising kids isn’t easy, and as we all know, it takes a village. Kids are influenced by everyone they encounter. They’re a product of the community that supports, protects and nurtures them, and I’m so glad mine is here.

Stephanie Monahan is the director of population health at Community Health Partnership serving Northwest Colorado. She can be contacted at smonahan@ncchealthpartnership.org and 970-305-6398.


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