When it comes to mental health, most of us think that we’re limited to the individual approach. Rarely do we speak about mental health and emotional wellbeing as something that involves entire groups – society, institutions, or families.
In this article, we’ll focus on the mental wellbeing of one of the most important social units: family. Very often, the mental health conditions of both partners and children are interdependent, and one family member’s emotional state has an impact on other members’ wellbeing.
This means that the best approach to nurturing the whole family’s mental health is by viewing the family as a system, as a single organism composed of several autonomous, yet interconnected and interdependent parts. One “organ’s” trouble can cause painful reactions in other parts of the organism, which is why we need to apply a holistic approach.
Family Wellbeing: How Families Can Promote Mental Health Within Their System
According to the Family Systems theory, families as social units represent extremely complex systems in which all members have the power to influence each others’ cognition, emotions, and behavior. Through complex interactions and emotional attachment, family members become a system comprised of interdependent individuals. Any change in one individual is very likely to cause changes to the entire system.
This holistic approach has many benefits, compared to the individual approach to mental health:
- The family as a group can provide a support network during a crisis;
- In challenging times, responsibility for taking action is delegated among family members, instead of one person carrying all the weight;
- There is a much greater possibility of personal growth and development of each individual when all family members share their reflections on the situations they’re faced with, compared to one person struggling alone.
If a family member or the whole family is going through a severe crisis, the most common way of solving this is going to a family therapy, whereas maintaining good family mental health can be done through spending meaningful time together, building family routines, and implementing mindful activities.
Having all this in mind, we’ve prepared a few tips and ideas on how to nurture your family’s mental health.
Strengthening Resilience Through Growth Mindset
Just like individual human beings, families too can be more or less resilient in times of hardship and challenges. Some families tend to break into conflict over minor issues, while others manage to stay positive even during the most difficult moments, such as loss, sickness, or major life changes (moving to another country, for example).
Very often, the factor which determines a family’s resilience to stress is the mindset. The same way we consciously decide to nurture a growth mindset within ourselves, we need to make a choice to do the same within our family. As parents or even close relatives (if we take the extended family into account), we are the ones responsible for instilling a growth mindset by creating a family narrative and values to support it.
Being open for experiences, communicating openly, relativizing failure, treating challenges as opportunities, and maintaining an overall positive outlook when it comes to the general view on life can help you become open-minded, relaxed, self-conscious, and confident and can have a positive impact on the mental health of all family members.
Instilling a growth mindset through positivity-enhancing activities, upbringing practices, and meaningful conversations can help with some of the most important aspects of family mental health, such as lowering perfectionist tendencies among children (and parents or caretakers), establishing healthy boundaries, and building self-confidence.
Family Routines that Enhance Positivity, Predicatibility, and Attachment
We can not explain enough how important routines are, especially for children. For adults, they play a major role in stimulating productivity, emotional stability, and fulfillment in life, when for children they represent a source of stability and predictability, which further provides them with a sense of safety and secure emotional attachment.
What we strongly recommend is building positive family routines, centered around the evergreen concepts of mindfulness – gratitude, growth, love, life meaning, and happiness.
For this purpose, besides The Five Minute Journal, intended for adults, we’ve also created The Five Minute Journal for Kids, which is a creatively structured gratitude journal for children. These two can be combined together perfectly for morning and evening family routines centered around joy, fulfilment and flourishing.
For more positivity and gratitude-centered activities for children and families, please see our article on cultivating and growing your child’s brain with positivity.
Have Constructive Fun Together
One of the family’s many purposes for each of its members is to have valuable memories and life-changing experiences together. Fun, memorable and engaging family moments help create emotional buffers and security within the whole family system, as they help all members feel more connected and safe.
For example, you can cook dinner together and experiment with the recipes, decorate your home for a special occasion, have a storytime evening or organize family board games night. All these activities can also be screen-free. This means no distractions – only you, good energy, and a lot of fun.
Even if you haven’t practiced these activities before, keep in mind that it’s never too late to start. Take your time and try to communicate as openly as possible about the things you’d all like to do together.
It’s important that nobody feels pressured or obliged to participate in family time, but enthusiastic to enjoy leisure activities together, and feel supported and secure during serious and difficult conversations, or crisis resolution.
While parents are the main carriers of all family activities centered around mental health, it’s important that children feel included and equally important in the decision-making processes.
After all, family is the first agency of socialization, and the way they build confidence in this primary group is the same way they’ll be building confidence in all other social groups they are to become a part of.