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Watching my son play and interact with the world is one of the greatest joys in my life. As a counselor, I find it particularly interesting to witness his emotional experience. Children experience the full range of emotions and intensity of emotion that exists in life, and they seem particularly hardwired to respond to life in ways that promote and protect their mental well being. Here are 3 habits that adults can learn from children to promote mental well being.

Be Present in the Moment

Children are great at staying present. Adults excel at distraction and disengagement from the present moment. Engaging our thoughts and emotions in the current moment allows us to take a break from anxious and depressed thoughts, receive what others are offering, and not miss out on the joy and beauty around us. Children are active in what is happening in their life right now. Worrying about the future or feeling sad or angry about the past, is not something that children spend a lot of time doing. Of course, this is more difficult for adults for many reasonable reasons, but adults can fall into the trap of spending much of their time engaged in thinking about things that are not actually happening in the present. Take this lesson from children, and start practicing a “be here now” presence at least once a day.

Ask For and Receive Help

Children are not too proud to ask for and receive help. Asking for help can combat loneliness, enhance what we are able to accomplish, and build up a humble character within us. Children do not do life on their own. My son, for example, loves, to try things for himself. He wants to hold the spoon, or turn off the light, or try to open the container. But, he cries for help if he is unable to do something himself. He seeks comfort when his emotions feel too big. He lays his head on my arm when he needs a hug or attention. It seems more difficult for adults to ask for what they need. When was the last time you asked for help in meeting your emotional needs? Americans are fiercely independent. When this independence gets in the way of connecting with others and asking for what we need, it harms us. Is there something that you might receive from another person that would bring comfort, encouragement, or practical help in your life? Try asking for help this week.

Be Vulnerable

Children are vulnerable in front of others. Vulnerability connects us to others and battles the paralyzing nature of fear and shame. By nature, children are vulnerable. Developmentally they are immature, requiring them to depend on others for provision, protection, and comfort. They must learn everything from holding up their heads, to eating, sitting, and communicating. Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk? They fail a lot. They fall and cry. They try again. Vulnerability is risky. Shame of failure does not weigh them down. Fear of getting hurt or being judged does not prevent them from risking and . And they readily express their pride and joy of accomplishment. There is great freedom in vulnerability. As social researcher Brene Brown explains, “vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” Find safe people in your life, and take some risks by sharing with them how you are really doing.

Practicing these natural habits of children- being present, asking for and receiving help, and being vulnerable–can stir up more joy in your life, decrease stress, and connect you to the support and love of others. These are just a few mental health enhancing ways of being in the world that we can learn from children. There are more! Can you think of some others? Although simple sounding, these practices can be difficult. Don’t go it alone! Give me a call and I can help you discover new ways to boost your mental health and alleviate stress and worry.

Written by therapist Amie Bilson

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