SARAH’S PARENTS HAD BOTH lost their parents and experienced abuse in their homes. They started their adult lives running away from their families and making unwise choices. They met and married under difficult circumstances and lived in a city that was heavily bombed in World War II. Sarah’s father was an ambulance driver who served during the London Blitz, and he was deeply traumatized by what he saw and experienced. Unable to believe that God could let such things happen, he became an alcoholic.
Sarah met Johnny, whose family had also experienced tragedies and severe poverty. Even though the couple didn’t have good role models, they set out to raise their family as Adventist Christians with a healthy picture of a loving and gracious God, healthy relationships, a positive mental attitude, and good values. It wasn’t easy because there weren’t many books about positive parenting when they started their family. But they prayed and gathered what they had learned about God and relationships from the Bible, from The Adventist Home, and from the role models of pastors, youth leaders, and well-functioning families. They managed to raise their three children with tender love and grace, without passing on any trauma from their own families onto future generations.
It’s more important than ever to make our homes places of love, peace, joy, hope, and healing, giving our children the best foundation for their mental, spiritual, physical, and relational well-being. In this broken world we are all vulnerable to various kinds of illness, including mental illness. Here are 20 tips we can use to support good mental health in our families.
- Pray for wisdom to guide your family through the complex issues and seasons of life. Prepare well for the next stage in your family life by reading books and going to seminars.
- Keep growing your relationship with an ever-loving, ever-present, ever-gracious God, who delights in you as His son or daughter (2 Peter 1:5-11).
- Help your children to experience that God totally loves them, that Jesus died to show us God’s love, that God is with them every moment of the day, and that they bring joy to Him. Make sure they have the most loving picture of God you can give to them (Psalm 103).
- Have a few simple rules that are enforced lovingly, calmly, and gently. Physical punishment, harshness, and shouting are hurtful, abusive, and shaming to children and can cause mental health issues.
- Place forgiveness and grace at the center of your family so your children will find it easier to accept God’s forgiveness and grace. Don’t misrepresent our loving God by saying that He is not pleased with them, that He will stop loving them, or that He wants to punish them. His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
- God said that loneliness isn’t good for human beings. Make sure your children know you will always love them, no matter what they do. Children are more likely to misbehave when they feel disconnected from you, so show them your love in creative ways.
- Comfort them when they are sad, as God comforts all His children in distress (Genesis 2:18; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
- If you have a conflict with your child, mend the relationship before bedtime. Disconnection from parents and conflicts that aren’t resolved before sleep can increase the risk of anxiety and depression.
- Model healthy conflict resolution in your marriage. A loving and peaceful home is a huge support for good mental health.
- Notice God’s blessings and gifts to your family. Share gratitude together (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
- Look for where God is at work in the world and find ways to join Him in His mission of compassion to your local community. Being kind to others helps protect our mental wellness.
- Make worships and Sabbaths positive and enjoyable. When children are happy during worships, church, and Sabbath, they are more likely to fall in love with God (Isaiah 58:13).
- Listen to your children. Invite them to talk about anything that troubles them so they learn to talk to God about everything too. When we listen lovingly to our children, we can often help them with their difficult thoughts and experiences before they become problematic (James 1:19).
- Help your children learn as many words as possible to describe their feelings. The easier it is to identify their feelings, the easier it will be to express them appropriately when they need to.
- Be a positive role model. Infuse your family life with activities and conversations that focus on healthy emotions. See the children’s pages in this issue for some simple ideas.
- Make sure your words and actions are in harmony. Children find it very confusing when you say one thing but act quite differently.
- Help your children to develop in their unique and God-created way and to feel positive about the body and skills God has given to them. Let them explore different interests so they can discover their joys and skills. Support them in their own choices of studies and work, rather than expecting them to do what you did, or what you wish you could have done. Develop their character strengths too.
- Don’t show favoritism. Bible stories reveal how painful and disastrous it is. We are all equally precious in God’s sight (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11).
- Speak positively and kindly to your children to embed healthy thoughts in their minds (Ephesians 4:29).
- Design your home to be well-ordered, tidy, clean, and peaceful. But don’t make cleanliness and tidiness a burden. Let children have a few toys at a time so it’s easier for them to tidy up. Train them to be tidy and organized, because when we live in a muddle it creates extra anxiety and stress.
Keep learning how to support the well-being of children and young people. There are many things we can do to protect and nurture good mental health in our families when we prioritize it as Sarah and Johnny did. It’s just as important to care for our mental health as it is for our spiritual and physical health, because all these dimensions affect each other.