Picture of Healthy Child
WHAT TO SEEK, FOSTERSometimes children who seem fine on the outside may not be 100 percent on the inside.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity . . . care that is provided in a stable environment, that is sensitive to children’s health and nutritional needs with protection from threats, opportunities for early learning and interactions that are responsive, emotionally supportive and developmentally stimulating—is at the heart of children’s potential to develop.”
Since most parents intuitively know and provide these opportunities, why do some children get derailed? Why do otherwise “normal” children get depressed? Introverted? Suicidal? Violent?
Atlanta’s Laura Ladefian, a child and adolescent therapist, most often works with normally developing children who have experienced a trauma or tragic event in their lives. A certified play therapist in private practice since 2012, Ladefian says she divides trauma into capital “T”—sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence—and lowercase “t”—divorce, loss of a loved one, tension in the house.
Regardless of the type of trauma the children she sees have experienced, there is one factor that she feels brings them all back to a place of health.
“When I’m thinking about a child that is centered, whole, balanced, the word that I think of first is ‘resilience,’” Ladefian says. “This is a kiddo that life can throw stuff at them and they can, within reason, bounce back.”
WHO also points to resilience as an essential ingredient for good health: “Healthy development of the child is of basic importance; the ability to live harmoniously in a changing total environment is essential to such development.”
Ladefian said empathy is also an important skill to develop while growing up, as is the child’s ability to see consequences of their own actions.
So how do parents foster resilience, empathy and awareness of personal consequences and ability?
Stop fixing and offer empathy instead.
“Make space for kiddos to express themselves,” Ladefian says. “Rather than fix the problem, just offer empathy. I think many parents, with the best intentions, just jump into problem-solving mode when it may be of more value to sit with your child and offer them some reflective statements. I think children often feel misheard when parents are so busy jumping to the next step. Just be present in moment.”
Offer encouragement rather than praise.
“Praise focuses on this external end product, whereas encouragement focuses on the effort,” Ladefian says. “Rather than the “A,” recognize what they did to get to the “A.” A child may do their very best, be demonstrating all the characteristics, and not get the external feedback: the “A,” the win, the trophy. By highlighting their efforts and the characteristics that they already have within themselves, that helps build resilience as well.”
Reframe problems for the child to fix them themselves.
In addition to sitting back, listening and encouraging, Ladefian suggests parents reframe a problem with a child rather than solving it for them, and in the reframing, pay attention to the positive in the situation rather than stressing the negative.
“It offers children not only the opportunity to figure things out on their own and the opportunity for overcoming hardship, once children have overcome those hardships they become so proud of themselves,” Ladefian says. “If parents are always jumping in to solve the child’s problems, then the child will have an extremely low selfefficacy.”
Also, Ladefian says parents should help a child foster social ties the child can call upon for support. Ways to do that include play dates, clubs that follow the child’s interests and community volunteering.
“If a parent sees a shift, do a mental inventory with kids at home,” Ladefian says. “Does my kiddo have enough people around him or her? Enough things in their life to explore, heal and grow? If you’re taking that mental inventory, and you noticed, oh, we got a little off track with play dates, or dance ended last fall, those are good starting points before consider counseling. Counseling can be a great second step.”
Citing numbers from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Ladefian agrees that the majority of children are mentally healthy, and when life throws them a little off track, parents do best by guiding rather than carrying their children back to the rails.
For more information visit Who.Int/Topics/Child_Health/en/.ContactLauraLadefianatGrowHealChange.com.