Behavioral Health: 5 Techniques to Support Your Child’s Wellbeing

Behavioral health is one of the main factors for a child’s wellbeing. Find out what you can do to support your child in our blog on Behavioral Health: 5 Techniques to Support Your Child’s Wellbeing!

A child’s wellbeing is the number one priority for most parents. It is understandable that we all only want the best for our kids and this also includes how they feel emotionally. This is where behavioral health plays an important role as it is the connection between the wellbeing of the body and the wellbeing of the mind. The behavioral health of an individual has a direct impact on the wellbeing of the mind if in imbalance. Of course everyone has some behavioral problems every now and again, but when children are struggling with their behavior on a constant basis, it will start to affect all parts of their lives and the lives of those around them. Parents can help their children with some techniques to manage their behavior better when they start to struggle. With this and our Thumsters families in mind, we have researched and written a blog on 5 techniques to support your child's wellbeing. This article really goes in depth and talks about the following topics:

What is behavioral health?

1. Mental health definition

2. Behavioral health definition

Which types of behavioral disorders are commonly known?

1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

3. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

4. Conduct Disorders (CD)

5. Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

5 Techniques to support your child’s wellbeing

1. Connect with your child

2. Teach mindfulness

3. Physical activity

4. Seek medical help if needed

5. Get extra support from apps

We love the saying all behavior is communication. We hope that this blog helps you to give a bit more direction and support to your child when you are you struggling with their negative behavior. It definitely can be difficult to tell whether your children are just going through a phase of tantrums or if there is a bigger issue behind a certain behavior, either way, supporting your child’s wellbeing is important, no matter the circumstances.

What is behavioral health?

Mental health definition:

First of all the term is not to be confused with mental health. Both may refer to similar problems, but mental health includes the psychological and biological conditions of people, as well as their habits. There are multiple factors within mental health that play a role, such as social, biological and psychological elements. An example would be a person that has been exposed to continuous economic pressure or violence, has significant higher risks of developing a mental illness than an individual that hasn’t. In summary you could say that mental health describes the general state of being of an individual. That’s why it is an integral part of our overall health, the saying goes: there is no health without mental health.

Behavioral health definition:

Behavioral health refers to the impact of habits on the overall physical and psychological state of a person. It is the connection between certain behaviors and the health resulting from these. Most people can handle the stress of everyday life and still function well (we all have fluctuations of course). But someone that suffers from a behavioral health disorder will consistently struggle to do so. Examples of behavioral health disorders would be an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or addiction to gaming or certain eating habits. If these are ignored and not treated, they will often transition into mental health disorders like anxiety, mood disorders, depression, addiction and learning disabilities on a long-term basis.

Which types of Behavioral Disorders are commonly known?

There are 5 different types of behavioral disorders that are commonly known. Most of these will not be diagnosed in children under 5 years old but some display early symptoms. The following disorders are in the behavioral category:

1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

3. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

4. Conduct Disorders (CD)

5. Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a disorder that affects the development of communication and behavior. Symptoms usually appear within the first two years of life but can be diagnosed at any age. These can include difficulties in communication, interaction and learning. Furthermore, restricted interests and very repetitive behaviors are also red flags for autism. ASD begins before the age of 3 and last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms may improve over time.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, causes high levels of impulsive behaviors, resulting in troubles with concentration, forgetfulness and sitting still for longer periods of time. ADHD is more often diagnosed in boys than girls and can affect a person in childhood and adulthood. Actually, more than 60% of children with ADHD will still have signs of this disorder when they are adults.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is characterized by constant disobedience and hostility. Signs of ODD are frequent and persistent patterns of anger, irritability, arguing, defiance or vindictiveness towards authority figures. About 10% of children under 12 years are diagnosed with this disorder, with boys being more likely to become affected. If this condition stays untreated, it can develop into conduct disorder (CD), which is defined by delinquent and aggressive behaviors.

Conduct Disorders (CD) can develop from ODD if untreated as mentioned before. Affected children and adults have a genuinely difficult time following rules and behaving in a way that is socially acceptable. These could be behaviors like bullying, destroying property, lying and stealing, which all usually violates the rights of others. Around 33% of kids with CD also have ADHD and boys are 4 times more likely to be affected than girls.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) carries many similarities to the former 2  conditions. It is characterized by severe anger, irritability and outbursts of violence. The difference to ODD is that DMDD is a lot more intense and the aggressive state of mind can stay around for much longer. The outburst of anger are much more frequent, sometimes 3- 4 times per week. For a diagnosis an adolescent needs to be at least 6 years old but not older than 18.

The causes for these behavioral disorders can come from a wide variety of factors. The university of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found out through research that biological, family and school-related factors play a big role. Biological factors include:

- Gender

- Physical illness

- Hereditary factors

- Brain damage

- Malnutrition

Other elements that play a role are emotional factors like:

- Stressful family life, for example a family break down

- Physical or psychological abuse

- Negative parental example

It is very important that a child gets diagnosed properly if they show symptoms for any of these disorders. The behavioral health of a child can severely be impacted if it doesn’t get help at an early stage. If left untreated, a disorder will have effects on the quality of life, school/ work performance and social relationships with family and friends. Reversly, if diagnosed and supported early, many children with behavioral disorders lead productive, high functioning and positive lives.

5 Techniques to support your child’s wellbeing

Now that we found out what types of behavioral disorders there are, it is time to discover techniques to support our children and improve their wellbeing. We’ve collected 5 techniques to support your child’s wellbeing and improve their behavioral health. In general, emotional wellbeing comes from the ability to understand and manage emotions, good relationships, feeling of accomplishment, healthy activities (sports), sleep and good nutrition. If you support your child with maintaining these factors, there will be less chance of developing a behavioral disorder or if they do suffer from one, it helps them to cope better with the issues they might face. Nevertheless, if your child shows symptoms for a disorder, it is a top priority to seek the help from a medical professional. So how exactly can you help your child? The following 5 methods are positive techniques to boost your child's wellbeing:

1. Connect With Your Child

Connection with your child is a vital part of parenting. This means interacting with your child verbally and physically. Verbally by praising, encouraging, practising and modelling good communication skills, and physically by hugging, snuggling and playing together.

Praising, or recognising your kids positive behaviour and interactions, will help them feel good about think and encourages them to talk positively about themselves and others. By praising you are helping them to recognize when they do something positive. This could be for all sorts of reasons. A younger child can be praised for for putting their clothes away and an older child for coming home at an agreed time or helping around the house without being instructed.

Encouragement is non-judgmental and doesn’t evaluate your children directly. Good examples for that would be phrases like: “I bet you are proud that you finished your homework by yourself”, “Look at all of the colors you used in your painting” or “You really worked hard”. If children are encouraged in that way, they feel a stronger self-motivation and pride in their work because the encouragement focuses on what they are doing well. To support encouragement, it is okay to use rewards, but it needs to be done in the right way. We will give a few tips on that later in the article.

Asking your child questions is important for several reasons. It shows that you have interest about what your children are doing and it also helps them be more sociable. It also helps with their critical thinking and recall skills. Especially open-ended questions are a good way for a child to express their thoughts and opinions. It is more likely that they let you know about any worries or concerns that they might have. Open-ended questions also can’t be answered in just one or two words, it enables a more detailed response and therefore a longer conversation that encourages thinking and giving an opinion. Examples for these kind of questions would be:

- How do you know…?

- Tell me about what you’re doing?

- Why do you think…?

Physical connection is also incredibly important to strengthen the overall connection with a child. Try to snuggle with your child for a few minutes in the morning and in the evening. Give a hug to say goodbye and hello, rub shoulders and give gentle pats on the back. All of these are great to strengthen the bond with your child. These touches actually have real effects on the body of your little one. Physical connection releases dopamine and serotonin, which regulate mood and relieve stress and anxiety. For example, if you snuggle with your kids, there is a higher chance of them talking to you and eventually telling you about something that bothers them or makes them anxious. There is a good quote that shows the importance of hugs that we loved:

We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth."

Playing together is also a great way to connect with your kids. Laughter and active play are perfect to shake away any excess stress or energy that might turn into suppressed anger if not released. Playing together also has a great social benefit. It teaches children how to cooperate and work better as a team. Letting them choose the game/take the lead gets their creativity flowing and leadership skills are fine tuned.

2. Teach Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a very simple form of meditation that focusses on what is happening in the present moment. This could be on what you’re hearing, feeling or anything else you might notice. It doesn’t have any special deep meditative state and it also doesn’t aim to totally clear your mind. This practice is a technique to look at the moment that you are currently experiencing in an honest and kind way. Mindfulness is not just something for adults, it is very beneficial for kids of all ages as well.

This useful tool can help to decrease anxiety, anger and irritability, while at the same time boosting happiness, confidence and concentration. It is thought that children are uniquely suited to benefit from mindfulness as habits form early in life and are more difficult to change once you get into adulthood. Mindfulness at a young age gives the opportunity to create a habit of being peaceful, stress resistant and accepting. We’ve collected 8 simple steps on how to introduce your child to mindfulness. The following practice is especially beneficial for children that find themselves feeling overwhelmed often or quickly, resulting in feelings such as anxiousness or anger:

1. Choose an environment that your child is comfortable in.

2. Find a comfortable sitting position for yourself and your child.

3. Ask your child to focus for a moment, and name one thing they can see, one thing their favourite colour, one thing they can hear, one thing they can (physically) feel. This teaches them to become aware of what is happening around them in the present moment and not just their feelings which may be overwhelming them.

4. Tell your child to think about a person he/ she really likes.

5. They need to pay attention to the way they feel, thinking about this person.

6. Tell your child to wish that person something nice. (what would make that person happy?)

7. Now your child needs to bring someone to their mind, who frustrates them or is in general a difficult person from their point of view. They should try to wish them something nice as well.

8. In the last step it is important to see how they feel. Is anything different? Are they less or more angry?

You will notice that practicing mindfulness together with your children is another great way for bonding. It can become a great habit to sit together once or twice per week to do some cognitive exercises. You could make it a part of the going to bed ritual or after breakfast to start the day. But never force your child, if your kids are not interested in this activity, just leave it and maybe suggest it at a later stage. Also never use mindfulness as a punishment, it should not be a: “You scratched your brother, now you have to sit in the corner and do some mindfulness!”. Don’t make it seem like a tool that is only used when there’s is trouble, mindfulness must be presented as an exercise that can be used as an everyday fun activity.

3. Physical Activity

Most parents would know by now that physical activity has benefits like a healthy weight, better cardiovascular function, strong bones and reduced stress. What is not very well known is that exercise has benefits for healthy behavior. To understand this, we need to look at the functions of the body during exercise. The breathing increases and gets deeper, which boosts the intake of oxygen for brain and muscles. A faster beating heart circulates more blood and several brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) are released, which affect the brains function directly. In conclusion, exercise helps the entire body to run at its highest level.

Why and how does this help with behavioral health? There is clear evidence that exercise increases the span of concentration, attention and organization. Some recent research showed that there are major changes just after a 30-minute session of physical activity. Furthermore, there are improved thinking abilities and behavior management after exercise for children diagnosed with disorders like ADHD or Autism. Kids can control themselves better and are less impulsive in regards to their behavior. The research study revealed that children and adults benefit equally, no matter the gender. Even problems like repetitive behavior, aggression, mouthing, disruptiveness and self-injury show improvement with more exercise.

How can parents encourage their children to get more active? It really depends on the preferences of the child. The best exercise is the one you enjoy doing.  Have a think and try first of all sports that you know your child likes; running, swimming, riding a bike or playing soccer perhaps? If these do not work out, you can try new sports that your child has not tried yet and might find interest in. It is good to try a wide variety of different physical activities, so your kids don’t get bored and might even be able to find a new passion. We published tips for creative indoor and outdoor activities on our instagram channel @Thumstersparentingapp. Make sure to check them out by clicking here. All of our activity recommendations can be done with virtually no equipment and are usually suitable for the whole family, enabling everyone to join in. This is another fantastic way to encourage a little couch potato; be a role model and jump into the activities!

4. Seek medical help if needed

It is absolutely normal for children to throw a tantrum every now and again or act out by disobeying the rules because they are moody. The problem starts when these little issues start to get more frequent and intense in a way that it limits the quality of daily life for the child and people around the child. If you suspect a behavioral disorder it might be the right time to consult mental health services from a medical professional. Please don’t be hesitant to do so because you think that meeting with a trained specialist means your child may be ‘naughty’ (they’re not) or labelled, or you are an incompetent parent. It just means that your child needs a little bit of extra support to be able to operate at their best. Early treatments are the most successful ones as they can tackle the issue at the beginning, when habits have not formed yet. Getting rid of habit loops is possible but not easy.

What are general warning signs for a behavioral health disorder?:

- Trying different discipline strategies and they don’t show any form of success.

- Is the behavior not developmentally appropriate? 10-year-old still throws temper tantrums or hits people? This might be an indicator for a delay in development that needs attention and support.

- Are social interactions impacted by the behavior? When their actions prevent them from making or keeping friends, it might be a sign for a disorder that needs a suitable treatment plan.

- School performance is going down because your child is frequently removed from class or struggles to concentrate during tasks.

There are also very specific warning signs that need attention immediately:

- Extreme non-compliance with rules

- Cruelty to animals

- Aggressive behaviors like threatening, fighting, destroying property, etc.

- Lack of remorse and empathy

- Self-injury by cutting, head-banging, etc.

- Signs of a psychosis like seeing things or hearing voices that don’t exist

- Criminal behaviors which include vandalizing property, stealing or breaking into someone’s property

Disruptive behaviors are difficult to evaluate as they can have many different causes but that is exactly why the consultation with a medial professional is essential. If your child is diagnosed with a behavior disorder, a specialist will be able to offer a variety of treatment options, that are specifically suitable for your child. A complete evaluation might also discover some pre-existing mental or physical health conditions. Treating a mental or physical health issue might already solve the behavioral problem and will give your child a quick way to return to a balanced life. An example of this might be chronic low iron resulting in poor sleep and health, and low energy, leading to negative behavior choices.

5. Get extra support from apps like Thumsters

In the digital age it is not an uncommon practice to use apps to support the families on their parenting journey. Especially now, where almost every person owns a smartphone, this is a good opportunity to use technology for extra support. There are many different options to choose from; mindfulness, guided meditation, breathing, sleep stories, cognitive behavioral therapy and the list goes on. Apps are available for almost every style of parenting. The parenting app Thumsters for example, specializes in encouraging children to make intentional and respectful behavior decisions whilst developing healthy behavior loops. Want to find out how to create habit loops? Click here!

The main goal is to motivate your kids to make positive behavior decisions and discourage negative behaviors, that might be disruptive to the family. This works with a thumbs up and thumbs down system, which counts all thumbs given towards a certain goal that you agree on together with your child. Rewards help to motivate and inspire and encourage your kids to be intentional about making a positive behavior choice. They provide positive reinforcement for good behavior while helping encourage your child to complete a difficult task. Rewards are recognition for a job well done and promote consistency and healthy bonds.

Thumbs up are given as reinforcements to let your child know which behavior has a positive impact on themselves and the people around them. Let’s say your child is helping their sibling to clean up after both played with toys in the living room. In this case, you would give both a Thumbs up to underline how important teamwork is, encourage organization and show in general that you acknowledge this kind of positive behavior. This will give your children direction to what actions are in line with your family values. Especially children with behavioral disorders benefit from system like Thumsters, as it is hard for them to decide what kind of actions or behaviors are socially acceptable. It works the same way for discouraging negative behavior. Every time your kids get out of control or behave in a way that is not in line with your family values, you can give a thumbs down. This is a much better alternative than yelling, threatening or fighting with your little ones. It is a gentle way of inviting them to make a better behavior choice next time they come across the same situation (asking them to do their chore for example, or use kind communication with a sibling)

For increased motivation there is a goal system where parent and child decide together on what kind of reward they get after a certain number of Thumbs is reached. This could be an additional visit to the playground, deciding on which movie to watch or getting an ice cream with Mom or Dad. Once your child develops a positive behavior and receives a lot of positive recognition/praise for it, he or she will realize that cooperating, connecting and communicating in certain situations brings a good outcome for them. On a long-term basis this behavior will become a habit and then transfer to be intrinsically motivated.

All of this can act as additional support for children with behavioral problems to get some guidance on what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable by setting clear expectations and boundaries. Always make sure to:

- Keep your kids involved

- Explain why thumbs are given

- Stay consistent as behavior changes are a long-term goal

- Add timelines if your kids have a tendency for procrastination

If you feel like this is something that would suit your family's needs, give Thumsters a try to support your parenting and give your children more guidance for their behavior. You can download it for free with the two buttons below: