The new year is a transformative time, but that fact may be forgotten when it comes to those in their early years. With more than 20 years of working with kids, counselor Rachel Franco is no stranger to mental health or the minds of Boerne youth as the Lead Counselor for BISD middle schools and the Lead Counselor at Boerne Middle School North. Franco says that mental health care is of the essence at all stages of life, especially in those early years. So here are some key mental health practices specifically for kids and teens that can be carried into 2024.
Franco says it’s critical for kids to simply get involved in something they love doing. “Some kids are into sports, some kids are into arts,” she explains. “Something they’re passionate about where they’re also around other kids their age and interacting is very important.” Franco adds that many poor mental health conditions are related to isolation, so getting involved is key.
The importance of a healthy body undoubtedly correlates to a healthy mind. Franco emphasizes the importance of kids going to the park, taking a walk, and eating well, especially when so much of their time is spent inside. “I think we get really bogged down and we work a lot indoors and so getting outside and really getting that fresh air and eating well is a huge part of practicing mental health,” Franco explains.
Keep a Routine
For both kids and teens, having a steady routine is important in maintaining mental wellness. In fact, Franco says this is one of the first things she asks her students: “What is your routine like when you go home?” She says routine is very important for helping kids feel safe and that the structure can help them feel secure. Franco said that her own children practice gratitude journaling as a great activity for kids and teens to build a routine around.
Prioritize Down Time
Franco stresses the value of kids simply doing nothing. “Kids need to be bored sometimes,” she explains, “because when kids are bored that is when they really start to establish conflict skills, whether it’s with siblings or friends.” It’s during this downtime that kids get a chance to work on these social skills and also create for themselves. “Boredom sometimes is a chance for kids to be creative,” so Franco says it’s helpful to ensure kids’ schedules include unstructured time.
Model Mental Health
A critical detail that Franco emphasizes is the strong connection between kids’ mental health and their parents. She notes that when parents model good mental health behaviors, kids will feel more inclined to follow. “I think teens and kids are more likely to open up and feel more comfortable with you if you as a parent are opening up to them,” says Franco. To help, she says to embrace the simple moments with them: “Turn the music off in the car and just talk.”
Practice In Community
Incorporate “Mindful Monday” into your family’s routine, where you dedicate your Monday to concentrating on mental health. Lead the family on a guided meditation or do some yoga. To get outdoors, explore the trails at Cibolo Nature Center and experience nature with the family.
“Teens and kids are more likely to open up and feel more comfortable with you if you as a parent are opening up to them.”