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Helping Kids Be At Their Best

Five Ways to Nurture Your Child’s Mental Health

Back to school is an exciting time for children and parents alike. It's an opportunity for kids to make new friends, explore new activities and learn new skills.

It can also be a daunting time where kids feel anxious about the new year and pressure to do well.

We spoke with Katey McPherson, a renowned youth mental health advocate and education consultant, and Director of Professional Development for Bark for Schools, about how to support kids as they embark on the new school year. The East Valley resident and mother of four shares her tips for keeping our kids at their best this back-to-school season and throughout the year.


McPherson says while most parents give their child a phone for safety reasons, she suggests giving a device without internet access. “If you’re giving the device for a safety issue, then you don’t have to give [access to] the internet or social media.” 

But she adds if you’re giving your child a personal device because they are asking for one, “you have to figure out what golden guardrails you want to put around your child. What’s the desired outcome for the device? There’s a lot of pressure in the mom community to just cave because everybody else is doing it. As a mom myself, I have felt that pressure.”

McPherson says to keep devices out of the bedroom; have no devices overnight or in areas that are unsupervised; have a good router that helps filter content and manage Wi-Fi; install a monitoring app that will alert you to inappropriate material, cyberbullying and other safety issues; know your child’s login credentials; follow your child’s social media accounts; and familiarize yourself with the platforms they are using.


Bouncing back from a disappointment or failure can be hard, and even more so for children. “In order to do hard things, you have to do hard things,” says McPherson. Resilience is a skill built over time and through tough experiences. It is easy for parents to step in and intervene in a desire to help save their kids from discomfort, but McPherson suggests taking a step back.

“It’s messy out there, and we have to allow them to have some of that mess in order to build that resilience; to be able to advocate for themselves to say ‘don’t call me that name’ or ‘don’t say that.’ Allow your kids to have some pain, because through the pain, they learn how to cope.”


To help practice advocating for themselves when those tough situation arise in the real world, McPherson says utilizing role play can help kids practice the vocabulary needed to stand up for themselves and increase social competence. 

Another way to help kids build vocabulary is to allow disagreements with siblings.

“There are goals in your kids fighting with their siblings; the other kid is typically teaching the younger kid some comebacks that they can use at school.”


McPherson suggests ensuring your child gets a good night’s sleep; keeping devices out of the bedroom overnight; having them move their bodies at least 30 minutes a day; and giving kids the ‘8-second hug’ - where you give two 8-second hugs to your child, once in the morning and once at night. 

She also recommends connecting as a family where no technology is allowed, like getting out in nature as a family or playing board games, and keeping devices away from the dinner table and during car rides to allow time for family conversation.



McPherson shares some of her favorite websites, podcasts and books below to help parents in supporting their children. You can find more information at

Websites to improve family digital wellness:

Podcasts to improve family connection and resiliency:

How to Talk to Kids About Anything by Dr. Robyn Silverman

Prep Talks with Ned Johnson


The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud, Ph.D. and Ned Johnson

Fourteen Talks By Age Fourteen by Michelle Icard

  • Mia, Ava, Ella and Emma McPherson. Photo by Gina Kolsrud