For families who live with someone with a mental health challenge (or multiple diagnoses), there are a number of issues that surface, including dealing with stigma and loneliness, advocating for their child’s rights and needs, knowing how to handle crisis situations, and responding effectively and in a supportive way to their children. Considering all of these issues, no matter how much a parent loves and wants to support their children, the reality is that parents can feel worn down. They may feel helpless at times, and maxed out with trying to support their children. How do parents support them in these times, too? And how do these feelings affect their relationships with their children.
Cultivating a supportive family is a cornerstone in the support for a child with mental health challenges. Elgar, Craig & Trites (2013) note that “longitudinal studies have found that an authoritative parenting style and open and respectful communication between family members that engages youths in a rational, issue-oriented manner both contribute to adolescents’ social competence and reduce the likelihood of mental health problems and risky behaviours” (p. 433). The idea is that in providing structure and healthy boundaries, families can reduce the risk of mental health issues.
Additionally, family dinners help to provide structure and foster open communication in the family. Elgar, Craig & Trites also note that “from zero to seven family dinners per week, mental health was better with each additional dinner” (p. 436). Dinner time can be an opportunity for families to connect with each other throughout the week, and the more of these that they have, the more they can help to foster a sense of community and support in the family. They reiterate this idea by saying that “mealtimes are opportunities for families to socialize and for parents to encourage adaptive behaviours in youths and supervise problematic ones” (p. 437). Establishing a routine early is important, too, as it becomes easier for everyone to manage their lives around the routine. If you do not yet have a routine, keep in mind that it takes 3-4 weeks to develop one. If you need help developing one, or getting everyone on board with the routine, support is available (feel free to get in touch with me, and I can help with coaching and other support).
Aside from family dinners, what else can your family do together to have an enriching family experience? What does your family do to spend time together? Here are some ideas…
- family bike ride, or some other kind of exercise together. It’s nice to challenge yourselves together, enjoy each others’ company, and do things that might take your minds off of the issues that may be within the family. A walk in the neighbourhood is another option.
- see a movie together. That will give you something to talk about afterwards, and the memories you have of the movies can serve as points of connection among your family members. It can also take the pressure off having something to talk about.
- learn something together. How about a new language, or a drawing class?