Fishermen Wellness: Kids
Kids are resilient little buggers
Hannah Longley, LCSW
Maine has the highest percentage of children who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders in the nation, and the third-highest for children who are diagnosed with depression. We also have a higher average of children who experience abuse, neglect, poverty, and hunger. Although these statistics are staggering and sad to look at, there is a bright side to this; we know our kids are experiencing anxiety and depression- we are seeing it, acknowledging it, and addressing it. We have created a structure where we can identify and support our young people as they navigate through challenges. This is really important to keep in mind because kids express and experience things differently than adults. The brain is the most complex organ in the human body and takes the longest amount of time to develop. Human brains don’t reach full development until between the ages of 23-26. As the brain is growing and developing, it is building the foundation that it will need to navigate through many of life’s challenges.
The front part of the brain is the last to fully develop and as a result, kids often struggle with things that adults take for grant. I frequently remind myself of this when attempting to parent my own children, taking deep breaths and repeating to myself “they don’t have a frontal lobe yet, they don’t have a frontal lobe yet”. This often helps to calm my frustrations when I remember all that they are working so hard to form- word retrieval, memory, routine, organization, emotional regulation, impulse control to name a few. Because of this, children who may be struggling with anxiety, stress, or depression may express it in different ways because they don’t have the skills to talk about it. This includes kids talking about head or tummy aches, irritability, sleep problems, appetite changes, nightmares, lack of motivation or energy, or withdrawing. When they struggle with the words and understanding what is happening, it often comes out with their behaviors and physical symptoms.
But the bright side is that kids are resilient. Providing them with positive supports and conversations allows them to learn to name what they are feeling and process through what is happening. However, for those of us who may be a bit older remember clearly when the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Will Smith for you younger folks) rapped to us “Parents just don’t understand” and this we remember can be true. True in the sense that parents have a different perspective and relationship with young people. The importance of a close and trusted aunt, grandparent, teacher, or adult in a child’s life can never be underscored. Studies have found that the best promotor of positive mental health and resiliency in a child is a close trusting relationship with an adult that is not a parent. Another resiliency booster- routine and structure within the home- including chores! By providing a child with a sense of importance within the family unit and with the ability to understand and predict events allows them a sense of control and certainty. Lastly, honesty in age-appropriate ways can help to promote children’s mental health during this time. Answer their questions as best you can- if you don’t know the answers tell them and work with them to find them! If you make a mistake, teach them how to apologize and talk through what happened because none of us are perfect!
We all have moments parenting (particularly with all the stressors currently occurring beyond our control) when we may struggle and our children may struggle.
NAMI Maine has set up a teen text line with trained peer support workers who are under the age of 23 to youth between 14-20. The text line is open from 12-10 pm each day at (207) 515-TEXT(8398).
If you are concerned that your child may be struggling with their mental health and you think additional support for you would be helpful, please consider our NAMI Basics classes. Information regarding NAMI Basics or any other support and resources you think would be helpful please reach out to the NAMI Maine Helpline- 622-5767 press 1.
And at the end of the day, remember you are their parent, you know them better than anyone else, and trust your gut while remembering they don’t have a frontal lobe yet.
A note from MCFA staff: Fishermen Wellness is a new on-going series by NAMI Clinical Staff. Each week a new topic will be featured pertaining to mental health and wellness for fishermen. We hope that this information is helpful to fishermen during COVID-19 and also under regular circumstances. Thank you to the clinical staff at NAMI for their support and insight during this time. Together, we persevere.