I cringe at the thought of my kids dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders. I’ve been to the depths. Feeling utterly hopeless, helpless, numb? It’s like walking around dead or living in an unending black hole. It’s hard to see my kids in mild pain or sorrow, so to go to the black depths? Please, no. No. NO.
But I’ve got to face reality: Mental and emotional health are parts of the big picture of health for everyone. And the road of life has bumps (things get messy!). So to think they will never stumble? Who am I trying to fool? They will experience hard times in life, and they may well experience the depths at which I cringe. And if they do? My fighting the fact they are there isn’t going to help them climb out. If anything, it could make them feel worse (and certainly inner fighting = me feeling worse, which isn’t useful for showing up and being helpful to them).
So what to do? What to do?
I can’t make them feel better. No one can make another feel better in the long run. It’s an inside job to find what works for each person. But I want to make them feel better now!!
Sit down and take a breather, Robin.
What I know: Along with this inside work, outside resources, support, and love can be huge. We can’t fix things for our kids (when we feel like trying, we can go bang our heads against a wall, which will help just as much). Instead, here’s one idea: let’s focus our efforts on being the best model of self-care and showing up that we can be. Because modeling is a side door for providing impactful support.
A place to start modeling? Exercise (i.e., finding a way to move that works for us).
Research gives exercise a thumbs up for helping with depression (and I’ve found it’s my own personal most effective antidepressant). There are plenty of ways to get moving that don’t cost a thing or require you to go anywhere.
I asked my teen (hi Lexie!) to share some ideas on how parents can invite our kids to add in some movement without getting on the “you should do this” telling bus (which goes nowhere). Check out her thoughts and give something a try. It just might help. Maybe even a lot.
DOs and DON’Ts of Exercise Encouragement for Your Kids
DON’T suggest something that you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.
DO model the way; show your kids how you’d like them to act.
DON’T hassle your kid about eating healthy all the time. Buy healthy options primarily for the house and that way they are encouraged towards healthy options without receiving some of the unhealthy messages about diets or made to feel like eating something on the less healthier side is a “cheat meal”.
DO offer to accompany them in whatever you suggest. This shows them that you are not acting hypocritical in recommending something you won’t do, as well as gives them comfort if they want your guidance on how to do something.
DON’T push them to go with you though. If they want to go on their own, let them. If they want to go with you because they want to spend time with you or they want your guidance, even better!
DO offer to go exercise without that seeming to be the main motivation. “Hey, want to go on a hike this weekend to this viewpoint overlooking the valley? The view is so worth the trek.” “I’ve been wanting to try paddleboarding if you want to come along!” “I heard about this really fun dance/yoga class; want to come with me this week?” “The pool is open this week, let’s go!” All of these are still exercise but it comes off better than “You should go to the gym to work out if you want to stay healthy.”
DON’T push the gym. The gym is known to be a place of exercise so people go there to get fit and most know what they’re doing. Honestly, it’s an intimidating place and it can feel like a forced form of exercise. If your kid wants to learn how to gym, go for it! But otherwise, there are tons of other ways to stay fit that don’t require direct gym workouts.
DO try small home workouts yourself. Working out at home requires less effort than going out into the real world, whether that be outside or the gym. The pressure is lower. Offer for them to join you, without pushing. Even if they decline, they’ll see your efforts and if they come around to wanting to work out, they know that door is open to them.