by Katie Martin, Healthy Learning Paths’ Instructor
Do kids need mental fitness? This question is rarely asked until a crisis occurs. What is mental fitness? Mental fitness is the health of the brain. Mental fitness includes the ability to think, problem solve, learn, manage emotions, express emotions, and manage social interactions. Keep in mind that the brain is our control center for everything. When kids learn skills for mental fitness, they can navigate social interactions, learning in and out of school, and gain a sense of power over their own well-being. So the answer to, “Do kids need mental fitness?” is a resounding YES!
When exploring healthy lifestyles, mental fitness is often left out of the discussion. Many parents may not realize that healthy nutrition, exercise, and sleep benefit the mental fitness of kids, as well as adults. Mental fitness includes the ability to process and express emotions in healthy ways. Children learn mental fitness skills by observing adult role models, practicing skills, and experiencing what works and where improvements are needed. Mastering mental fitness skills require practice with face to face human interactions in real time. Kids cannot master mental fitness over the internet in a social media experience.
When children experience frustration, they will resort to acting out behaviors that range from tantrums to self-harm such as cutting depending on the age of the child if they do not practice skills for mental fitness. Practicing skills for mental fitness helps kids and parents learn how to manage stressful situations. These skills result in overall well-being for the whole family.
With summer upon us, this is a terrific time to explore mental fitness for kids. Summer gives a break from school schedules and more free time. What is the best use of that free time to help kids practice skills for mental fitness? Glad you asked. Let’s explore some skills for mental fitness.
Stifle Screen Time
More screen time means less movement for both kids and adults. In summer, screen time easily increases to all day activities leaving less time for physical activities that promote mental fitness and healthy development. Children who have high amounts of screen time with TV, computers, or video games, experience more psychological difficulties and emotional issues according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Summer is the perfect time for a turn off the screens movement and explore the outdoors! Some tips for summer include:
- No TV’s in bedrooms
- Plan daily activities for kids such as walks, bike rides, hikes, swimming, visit parks, or school playground.
- Discourage TV and other screen use for children ages 2 and under.
- Limit screen time to no more than 1-2 hours a day for all other ages.
- Use screen time as a family to watch a movie or favorite family show.
- Turn off the TV and all screens during mealtimes and share conversation.
- Remember children learn from what you model, so limit your screen time too.
Being physically active is one of the best ways to stay mentally fit. Best of all, there are plenty of activities that are free and create family bonds. Children benefit from unstructured play. Physical activity builds mental fitness. Physical activity improves:
- Blood flow to the brain and this manages stress and improves overall brain function.
- Cognitive function and concentration in both kids and adults.
- The brain-muscle connection.
- Restful sleep at night.
- Attitude and emotional regulation.
Most kids need and want more than 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Engage children in planning and selecting healthy physical activities. Unstructured play activities such as tag games, building forts in the yard, and walks allow children to be creative, save parents money, and are enjoyed by the entire family. Unlike organized activities, children do not suffer burn out or overuse injuries from free play activities.
Luckily, the steps to achieving overall mental fitness and well-being are fun and enjoyable for everyone. Incorporating a few of these suggestions into your daily routines improve your child’s mental fitness and development. Guess what? As a parent, you, too will experience the same benefits to your mental fitness!
So stifle screen time and replace it with cool and fun activities for the entire family. Keep it simple, cheap, and explore what’s in your community. Practice mental fitness and make memories for the best summer ever!