Thoughtful Parenting: Wellness is a multi-generational effort | SteamboatToday.com

Thoughtful Parenting: Wellness is a multi-generational effort


Sarah Valentino
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Anxiety. Depression. Substance use disorder. Trauma. Each year, around 5,000 people in Routt County endure a behavioral health problem that becomes severe enough to impact their daily activities, work or relationships.

It should come as no surprise that these disorders could affect one’s parenting abilities, too. Average annual prevalence for mental illness is one in five; for children of parents with a psychological disorder, that risk jumps to one in two to three. This risk comes from both genetics and the more challenging situation of having a parent with an unmanaged mental health problem.

Research shows nearly all mental health diagnoses are heritable to some degree. This means many common disorders are rooted in genetics and can be biologically passed on from parents to children — like eye color, height or freckles.

That’s right; you can pass on your tendency for social anxiety or the winter blues just as easily as you passed on your curly hair.

The median age of onset for anxiety is as young as 8 years old, so it is never too early to think about healthy coping skills. 

The good news is humans are a complex phenomenon of nature and nurture. Children and adolescents are at a ripe age to learn how to overcome challenges, and they can be incredibly resilient with the support of caring adults.

So, what can you do to help support emotional and behavioral wellness for both your family and yourself?

  • Be introspective and honest with yourself about your own health. Seek professional treatment if necessary and make time to take care of yourself. 
  • Talk to others about your struggles. Even if they aren’t diagnosable, feelings of anxiety, inadequacy and fear are typical in all humans. Sharing these thoughts often helps to alleviate the burden. 
  • Have empathy when your child is struggling and encourage them to explore different coping skills.
  • Be mindful of your own coping behaviors. You know by now that children are incredibly perceptive of your behavior, even if you’re not in parenting mode. Have you heard a young one mimic your frustrated grunt? Do they crave junk food on a stressful day, just like you do? Try to model positive skills like exercise, meditation, deep breathing, creative hobbies, time with loved ones and avoiding excessive substance use. 
  • Apologize for inappropriate reactions. We all get emotional. Own up to it. They will respect you for it, and it models good conflict resolution. 
  • Encourage a wide support system for your child. Positive peers, other trusted adults, mentors, and supervised recreational activities all help develop resilience outside of the home.  
  • Have hope. Mental health problems — even diagnosed ones — can be well managed with consistent support, appropriate treatment and learned coping methods. 

Sarah Valentino works as the regional behavioral health educator with the Health Partnership Serving Northwest Colorado. Her background is in human development, psychology and youth program leadership. To learn more about this topic, email her at svalentino@ncchealthpartnership.org to sign up for Youth Mental Health First Aid training on June 7. 


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