Today, we will talk about 5 things that impact the mental health of a girl child! The month of October holds both world mental health and international day of the girl child. We thought it made sense to marry both topics into one.
Sometimes, we see our child change behaviours and it feels like they are ‘hard to get along with’. This might cause us to get upset, yell, further impacting them, when in that time, they need us.
But, with knowledge, we can be better equipped to help and protect our girls. A mentally guarded girl child is less vulnerable to child sexaul abuse. So here are the 5 things that can impact the mental health of the girl child.
As women, think about it, you experience hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, child birth, age, etc. Heck, sometimes you experience hormonal changes just for weather change, point being, almost anything can cause hormonal change. And think about how this impacts your feelings and mood in those times.
Now, picture what that looks like for a child who is just beginning that journey to begin with. Estrogen, a female sex hormone, has been linked to depression. This estrogen, increases dramatically during puberty in girls which could lead to depression. With depression comes with too much sleep or lack of, fatigue, irritability, etc.
I remember being 12 and feeling frustrated with myself for ‘oversleeping’, constantly being hungry and gaining weight for no reason. But guess what was going on- my period was about to burst forth. The reaction from adults? Pissed at me, called me lazy and yes got beat sometimes. Is that you and your girl child? Be guided!
How to support
- Pre-empt your girl child getting into puberty and educate her on what she can expect (mood changes, periods, bodily changes, irritability)
- Guide her through this period. Watch for mood and behavioural changes, so you can guide your girl child.
- Permit some extras. Set extra power naps, allow her to eat a little more than usual, sleep in more,
- Help your girl child understand it is a phase
- Engage your girl child in physical activities. Exercise helps regulate hormone and might be a good way to get through puberty
2. Maturing Brain
Overall, children’s brains are still growing (physically) until they are 20! So the ‘immaturity’ you worry about and the ‘stupid decisions’ you think they make, now you know why. Research also shows that when this ‘immature brain’ is subjected to highly stressful moments, its ability to think is further impacted.
In my experience of working with kids, I find that when they make ‘stupid decisions’, they tend to beat themselves up (extremely so). And research shows that girls (and women) tend to ruminate over their bad choices longer than men, triggering negative feelings.
How to support
- Recognize that they are KIDS, and show compassion
- Explain the why behind the issue and discuss with them how to behave differently next time (include the why)- this tends to resonate more than just being upset
- Find creative ways to repeat the lessons- research shows repetition helps kids retain
- Walk through major decisions with your kids- when you are open to your children, they can come to you with major decisions and be open
3. ACE- Adverse Childhood Experience
These are stressful/traumatic experiences that occur before age 18. It can be a number of things such as:
abuse (sexual, emotional, physical)
household dysfunction (divorce, domestic violence against mother)
death of loved one
substance abuse, etc.
ACE changes the brain development and affects a girl’s body to stress, negatively. It often also causes depression and related issues, as such, a girl child who has experienced ACE, needs additional support.
How to support
- As much as possible, protect the girl child from any ACE you can help. Truth is you cannot help every situation, e.g., death of a loved one, but you can be mindful on sexual abuse.
- Gte professional help. If any ACE occurs, get the right help on counselling and therapy. Children are most neglected in the event of death in the family. Sit with them and let them express their hearts to you should death of a loved one occur.
- Give time to heal. The wounds eventually heal, but time and patience is key. YOU can shorten this time by providing all the help, support and resources needed
- Pray for and with your girl child. Spiritual empowerment is such an undervalued topic
4. Physical Health Challenge & Family History
The presence of any physical health can impact mental health. This is true for a girl child, as it is for any other person. If there are medications involved, the side effect of such medications could also impact mood, hormones and by extension, mental health.
Also, existing family medical history could include certain types of physical health commonly associated with impacting mental health. It is also important to note any existing mental illnesses, as these sometimes skip one generation to another.
How to support
- Be familiar with family medical history. This helps you proactively protect your girl child
- Check all medications and prepare to tackle side effects
5. Discrimination & Bullying
Discriminative issues targeted at your girl child can impact her mental health. Issues such as racism, bullying, and being picked on by boys. It is not uncommon for boys to taunt girls at the onset of their puberty.
Racial discrimination among immigrant kids in Canada is quite high. As parents, you know the impact it creates, now think about your child who barely knows how to cope. We all need to check our biases for gender discrimination as well. Even as parents, the things we tell our girl child they can or cannot do, simply for being girls.
Reports show that 47% of Canadian parents report having a child who is a victim of bullying. Kids tend to get embarrassed and feel weak when bullied, so they internalize.
How to support
- Pay attention to mood and behavioural changes in your child, especially right after school
- Ask questions (especially when in doubt)
- TEach your kids on how to handle discriminatory and bullying behaviour
- When your kids report to you, stand and speak up for them
- Mind their online activities, because bullying is also on the internet
As you can see, none of these are within the control of a child or any human for that matter. I know sometimes it feels like our young ones are intentionally out to get us frustrated, but that is not the case.
There are things that can impact their mental health, when we know, we can be less critical and be more supportive. Remember, a healthy girl child will grow into a healthy, confident woman. #protecthermentalhealth