1.2 Promoting mental health among children
To some extent, adults have a choice about whether they accept the health promotion messages that surround us. This is not to say that ‘choosing’ to follow a ‘healthy way of life’ that contributes to the prevention of some illnesses is straightforward. Far from it. The business of life – in particular personal circumstances and where we live – can make it difficult or even impossible to afford taking up a hobby, or being able to relax and go for a walk in a safe environment. However, most adults will have some level of control over their health-promoting behaviours, and even though it may be difficult to make certain changes, there is often some scope to do so.
For young children, their choices about what they can do to shape their lives in ways that maximise their physical and mental health are rather limited. Young children may not have the vocabulary to recognise and express their feelings, so emotional responses to situations can be expressed as ‘bad behaviour’, when in reality, the child is expressing their emotions, which may include feelings of frustration, sadness or anger, in a way that is expected at their age and stage of development. Young children also have very little control in relation to where they live, who they live with and, often, considerable restrictions about what they do. Consequently, the adults in children’s lives play a critical role in creating environments for children that are positive for their mental health. However, there is much to do to enhance people’s understanding of how this can be achieved.