Archived Story

Children need to hear what they do right

Published 10:44am Friday, December 6, 2013

Column: Guest Column, by Jackie Pederson

When I was asked to write an article about children’s mental health I said that I would, but when I sat down to write it I was a little overwhelmed.

Should I write about all the different diagnoses? Should I write about acting out behavior? Should I write about how to elicit good behavior?

I’m not into labels because I don’t find them particularly helpful and behavior can be a judgment call. The subjects within the subject of children’s mental health are endless.

I decided to write about the things that all human beings need and what I consider some of the most important things in everyone’s mental health. The three things I chose to write about are: relationships, emotional regulation and inner strength.

The gold is in the relationship. Relationships sustain and heal people.

Dean Ornish, a heart doctor who wrote “Love and Connection,” talks about the importance of connection in physical health and mental health and how important it is to have relationships.

No matter what your diagnosis is, connection with unconditional positive regard is a lifeline and a healing element. Everyone wants to matter and the only way to matter is through connection with other people. The best thing for kids is to be connected and everyone can do this, parents, neighbors, teachers, relatives and friends. Let’s try to let kids know that they matter. They are our most precious commodity.

Emotional regulation is a term used in a type of therapy called dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT. (DBT is just a fancy name for some of the things our grandmothers always told us.)

Emotions are what cause the 2-year-old to have a tantrum. Tantrums happen at all ages, too. When emotions get out of control, we usually make a big mess.

This is true with adults as well as kids. We need to start acknowledging and teaching kids about their emotions very early, but learning about emotional regulation can start at any time.

Emotions come and go in waves, and when we just wait it out, rather than making a mess, what we think we just can’t take soon changes. Just try waiting it out next time.

Now if we make a mess, which I know I have on occasion, we learn the most by having to clean it up. That means apologizing, picking it up or cleaning it up in some way. Meeting emotion with more emotion is not helpful. And remember emotions are contagious and they are easily caught, negative or positive.

It is most helpful to stay calm and have a home and community where mistakes can happen but can be cleaned up with very little emotional reaction. What if we taught kids about the power of emotions and how they affect our state of mind and how to handle them.

Inner strength means resilience. It enables people to cope, strive for growth and be responsible for themselves no matter what their circumstances, diagnosis, or physical disability. It means responsibility with accountability.

Remember the story of the butterfly. Whereby, helping the butterfly escape from the cocoon weakens and renders the butterfly incapable of flying, sometimes we also help too much. Our struggles can make us stronger. What we need is emotional support from the people around us, not someone to solve our problems or let us off the hook. We don’t need someone to hit us over the head with our mistakes but we do need someone to hold us accountable. We have, sometimes, become a society of excuses and blame. What kids need to know are the things they do right, that we will be beside them as they go through life and that we believe in them enough to watch them struggle.

So children’s mental health is a big subject, but being aware of some common sense things can help us take care of the mental health of our community’s children and our own. Use these three things, relationships, emotional regulation and building inner strength. They don’t cost a dime, just your time!

Change the world. Nurture a child!


Jackie Pederson is a mental health worker for Freeborn County Human Services.