Youth mental health has been thrust into the limelight in the aftermath of the recent death of a River Valley High School student. All across the nation, parents and educators are not just grappling with our own emotions over this event, but also that of our children.
In consideration of the worsening COVID-19 situation in Singapore, and the recent reversal to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), it is all the more crucial for us to help our youths stay mentally strong and resilient. But how do we actually achieve this?
What is resilience?
Very Well Mind defines resilience as "the mental reservoir of strength that people are able to call on in times of need to carry them through without falling apart". Some refer to it as the ability to bounce back and recover from difficulty.
The more resilient a person is, the better positioned they are to handle adversity and regain a sense of normalcy after a major event or struggle.
Research shows that the strongest protective factor linked with resilience to childhood trauma is the presence of a nurturing, and responsive adult.
The presence of this nurturing figure can help restore a sense of safety, predictability, and control to their children’s lives, and give them a way to process traumatic events and find healing.
I’m sure we all want to be this nurturing figure in our children’s lives, especially at such a time as this.
Strive to make our home a safe haven for such heart-to-heart conversations.
Take time to process this
In a recent interview with CNA, Ms Natalia Rachel, a trauma therapist from Illuma Health, advised that we should take time to process this event if we don’t want to live in its shadows.
"If we don’t take time to process it, it defines who we go on to become, and this kind of trauma could lead us to become very defensive…and afraid people," she said.
So we should take time to acknowledge our sadness and grief about the killing, and not attempt to rush through and move on with life.
Talk things through, but listen first
Perhaps your child has already expressed their worries about attending school, or about being physically harmed. Or they may simply feel sad about the whole incident and are unable to further describe their feelings. Rest assured that this is all normal.
It is healthy for our young ones to raise their fears, doubts, or even anger in a safe and private space, and we should strive to make our home a safe haven for such heart-to-heart conversations.
There are only two rules for such conversations:
Be accepting of all feelings (There are no "wrong feelings")
Do not judge whatever is being shared
If open conversations form a regular part of family life from a young age, it may help to keep communication lines open even throughout the transition period of adolescence.
However, if our kids are not ready to talk, we need not force them to. Remember that talking is not a prerequisite to feeling connected to our loved ones. Sometimes, doing normal activities like watch a family movie or going outdoors for a walk helps too.
As we work towards rebuilding a sense of normalcy in our children’s lives, let’s remember we can all help to reduce their stress and support their ability to cope.
Encourage different expressions of emotion
One of the most practical things we can encourage our youths to do is to express their difficult emotions in healthy ways.
Some acceptable ways of releasing strong emotions include:
writing or journaling
doing art and craft
belting out their favourite song in the shower
Physical activity also helps. Jacquelyn Peh, previously an associate counsellor with Focus on the Family Singapore, explains, "Any form of exercise that encourages movement can help youths combat their depressive feelings, whether it’s walking the dog, dancing in the shower or skateboarding.
"Participating in any physical activity can help improve their mood as endorphins, or ‘feel good’ hormones, are released during exercise into the brain. Exercise also increases body temperature, which may produce a feeling of calmness, and help take their mind off their troubles."
The strange thing about grief is that life simply goes on, yet our minds can’t help wandering back to this tragic event.
Restore a sense of balance
In some sense, we are going through collective grief as a society – for the loss of two young and promising lives.
The strange thing about grief is that life simply goes on (meals still have to be prepared, homework needs to get done) yet our minds can’t help wandering back to this tragic event, especially during quieter moments in the day. A small part within us will never be the same again.
As we work towards rebuilding a sense of normalcy in our children’s lives, let’s remember we all have a role to play in reducing their stress and supporting their ability to cope.
As parents and teachers, we can take time out from studying to look into filling our children’s love buckets intentionally.
Set aside time to engage in activities that they enjoy, be it a sport or a hobby. By spending time together over a meal or a fun activity, we communicate to them that they are important to us, and that we will be there to walk with them through the good times and bad.
By fulfilling our children’s essential needs of love, attention and acceptance, we are in fact building protective buffers around them.
With your unconditional love, strong presence and consistent support, your child will be in a better position to rise above the circumstances and stay mentally and emotionally strong.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
This article is part of a series of resources supported by the Musim Mas BlueStar* fund, administered by The Majurity Trust, to address mental health needs of children and youth.
Has your child mentioned friends being stressed by school or bullied online? Do you know if your child or their friends have entertained thoughts of suicide?
With the Raising Future-Ready Kids: Mental & Emotional Resilience and Suicide Prevention & Mental Health webinars, we give you handles to build on foundations of open communication and supportive relationships to protect your child’s mental health and emotional well-being. Discover how you can raise mentally strong teens and create a safe space for your child at home at these webinars.
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