By Dr Addie Wootten, Smiling Mind CEO and clinical psychologist

Taking care of our mental health has always been important, but the challenges we’re facing collectively in the face of COVID-19 have well and truly brought this to the fore.

And while taking a preventative approach to mental health is crucial for everyone – it’s particularly important for children.

Currently, one in seven primary school children, and one in four secondary school students, experience a mental illness in any one year.

With the increased uncertainty and rapid routine changes COVID-19 has inflicted, it’s very likely these numbers will increase.

Dr Addie Wootten says it’s particularly important to take preventative mental health measures for children.

Children are particularly at risk during this time as they face a number of changes to their usual schedules and may not have established the coping mechanisms needed to deal with such extreme uncertainty.

Dealing with these changes, managing their emotions and navigating COVID related challenges can be difficult for them as they’re still learning the skills and tools required to do so.

At times, it can be hard to tell if children are struggling, and warning signs will of course vary from child to child.

However, it’s important for adults to look out for some of the common symptoms including increased anxiety, changes in sleep patterns or physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and fatigue.

As it can be hard to tell if a child is struggling, adults need to look out for some of the common warning signs.

As a society, we need to encourage our kids to be proactive about fostering good mental health. Instilling an awareness of their own mental health, and equipping them with tools to protect it, will help reduce mental illness not just now, but well into the future.

Whether it’s a five-minute meditation, gratitude journaling or building the vocabulary to describe emotions, work with the children in your life to establish daily practices that promote good mental health – just like we would our physical health.

Gratitude journaling as a daily practice can promote good mental health.

And finally, I want to remind the mums and dads out there to care for themselves, too. Kids are very perceptive – we often default to shielding them from our worries, but they pick up on body language we might not even realise we’re exhibiting. Creating time and space to look after yourself is paramount.

Smiling Mind has recently launched its free, digital Smiling Mind Care Packs in partnership with the Victorian Government, Gandel Philanthropy and the Ian Potter Foundation, to help parents, carers and educators support positive mental health in kids.

The Care Packs include practical, evidence based tools and resources that can be used for children aged five to 12. You can check them out on their website.