Tips for Parenting Healthy Habits in Kids with Mental Health Challenges | SBM

Getting daily movement and enough sleep can meaningfully improve kids’ mental health. But parents are pulled in many directions at once, and improving physical activity and sleep habits often just don’t make the cut. This partly arises out of the misconception that their children need to make huge, unrealistic changes for it to make a difference. In fact, small, manageable changes can help develop life-long healthy habits that can make mental health conditions much more manageable.

About one in every five US youth has a diagnosed mental health condition. Many more struggle with symptoms of anxiety or depression. Fortunately, research has shown that getting daily movement and enough sleep can meaningfully improve kids’ mental health.

Developing healthy sleep and exercise habits in children can be challenging. Parents are often pulled in many directions at once, splitting their focus and forcing them to prioritize the care they provide. Parenting kids with mental health challenges can be especially taxing, in this regard.

When parents have to “pick their battles,” they often report that improving physical activity and sleep habits just don’t make the cut. This partly arises out of the misconception that their children need to make huge, unrealistic changes for it to make a difference. In fact, small, manageable changes can help develop life-long healthy habits that can make mental health conditions much more manageable. 

Yoga is not for everyone. Neither is running. And that’s ok! Regular, vigorous physical activity is the goal, whatever form it takes. Sometimes the best form of exercise is something we don’t think of as exercise at all.

For example, if your child is really into video games, have them try video games that require movement to play. There are free, fun options available for smartphones and tablets. For an added bonus, play the games together! Be creative and encourage your child to think less about “exercise” and more about getting more enjoyable movement.

60 minutes of exercise each day is a common recommendation for kids. That isn’t always realistic. For kids with mental health conditions, it might be impossible. 

Short bouts of light and moderate physical activity–including walking the dog, hiking, or riding a bike–also improve mood, focus, anxiety, depression, and sleep. Taking a 10-minute walk after school is a lot less daunting than running 3 miles. It’s also more likely to become a regular, healthy habit.