Ways to Nourish the Emotional and Mental Health of our Children.

Recently, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee,  proposed the creation of a K-12 mental health trust fund of $250 million in one-time funds, which Lee said will support the growth and placement of mental health services in at-risk schools. According to Lee, one of five children suffers from a mental health diagnosis, and the youth suicide rate has increased 56% in the last ten years. For adolescents, the number may be closer to one in four suffering with mental health issues. Today I had the opportunity to discuss some of the underlying causes of this epidemic on our local news station. I hope this post offers tools to equip your children with the gift of emotional health!

In the last twenty years, the well being of our children has plummeted to the point that professionals call it an epidemic. For tired, overworked parents, these numbers are overwhelming and even discouraging. We want our homes to be a place of hope and life, but we are overwhelmed with the bombardment of social media and technology, the fast pace of our culture, and all of the responsibilities we have to accomplish in a certain amount of time. How do we collectively move forward as parents to ensure the mental well being of our children (and even ourselves)?

Before we offer steps to prevent depression and anxiety in our children and teenagers, it is important to take a step back and ask: Why the steep increase? What is going on in culture? Clearly, needs are not being met in the lives of our children. What is potentially lacking in our homes and in culture at large?

In 2002, a report was published by The Commission on Children at Risk called, Hardwired to Connect. It was an interdisciplinary study done by doctors, research scientists, youth workers, therapists, and social scientists. It was done through Dartmouth Medical School, the YMCA, and the Institute for American Values (a think tank on Civil Society). The report and then recommendations took place because of the rising rates of mental and emotional distress in U.S. Children and Adolescents. It wanted to identify the crisis, present the underlying cause, and provide potential solutions.

The study concluded that the largest factor lacking in our young people is meaningful connection. The report stated:

  1.     “Our kids are hard wired for close connections to other people.”
  2.     “They are hardwired for deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.”

Our children are neurologically wired to develop in loving communities that intentionally seek their well being. It is in those communities they can in turn learn to love and seek the wellbeing of others. The two primary factors cited as preventing these needed connections was overuse of technology and the crumbling of social institutions. This study took place before the smartphone and was primarily looking at entertainment and video games. The numbers have increased significantly since the advent of the smartphone. Meaningful connection with others and the world around them helps children to develop healthy identity and experience flourishing. Technology and the relationships found therein do not offer the life giving, safe, loving relationships that face-to-face interaction provides.

The Commission recommended that children need something they called authoritative communities. Authoritative Communities are places where children and youth have deep meaningful relationships with family and the larger community that offer boundaries, face-to-face contact, and meaning.  As a mother of four, a teacher, and speaker I have learned that what fills a child will form a child. The relationships children have, the boundaries in which they operate, and every form of technology in which they engage, form how they view themselves and the world around them. They need safe, loving, authoritative relationships and need to be connected to something bigger than themselves including moral and religious purpose. With this in mind, I want to provide you with suggestions in three areas of a child’s life where changes can be made to nurture children emotionally and spiritually: Family Time, Faith Practices, and Food Choices. It will not happen all at once, but by taking small steps we can make a difference.


Often in our fast paced culture, parenting tends to be reactive rather than proactive.  Below are a few suggestions to more intentionally invest in and enjoy your children at home.

Family Dinner: The kitchen table is a sacred place where our children learn of their own humanity. They learn to listen and to be heard. Make this a screen free zone where the day is discussed. Take time to hear about the ups and downs of each person’s day.

Family Time: Instead of watching a movie together, play games, read a book, take a walk or do a family project.  Included in family time are family chores. Studies suggest giving your child more responsibilities increases their sense of value and self-worth. Make them a necessary part of the productivity of your home. No one is above cleaning the toilet.

Family Rituals: Routines and rituals provide security and meaning in the life of a child. Make a point to read to them each evening. Choose something positive to reflect upon together. Start the day in an intentional way, even if it’s in the car racing to school! Keep a book in the car of thoughts, practices, or devotions that you can read together.

Family Boundaries: Our children need boundaries that only we can give. Our culture provides very little in the way of boundaries and therefore very little protection. Children need boundaries to flourish. They provide mental/emotional stability and children feel this in the form of love. An example of boundary setting might be how technology functions in your home. There is no doubt this may be the most important boundary for parents to set. A book that I highly recommend to this end is, The Tech Wise Family, by Andy Crouch.


Provide hope: In 2018, the Harvard School of Public Health published a study linking healthy adulthood with early religious practices and experiences. The study found that young people who attend religious services and practice some sort of religious ritual such as prayer and meditation were less likely to exhibit depressive and anxious behaviors.

Provide meaning: In ‘Hardwired to Connect’, neuroscientists suggest that we are neurologically wired to seek deeper meaning. Children and teens naturally wonder why they are here and what their purpose is. Religious practice directs them and helps them answer difficult questions they face and allow them to see purpose in hardship.

Provide purpose: These practices connect children with something beyond themselves and enable them to feel part of a larger whole. It gives them purpose and hope and a vision beyond the present.

Provides connection: Faith communities offer connection with people of all generations. They enlarge their families. They offer ways to serve and demonstrate their ability to accomplish something together for good.


Nourishment is a key aspect of mental health as well. Our minds and our bodies are mysteriously interwoven and connected. If we are feeding children fast food, soda, and chips, they are not going to feel well physically or mentally. Stick to water and milk (or milk substitutes) for liquids, and offer less food options in shiny packages. Whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats provide the vitamins and minerals necessary for your child’s brain to develop and function in a healthy way.

Parenting is a beautiful and difficult journey. There is no greater endeavor than investing in the life of your child. This journey was never meant to be taken alone. If your child or teenager is noticeably more withdrawn, detached, or irritable, or not enjoying activities that they usually love, reach out to your community around you. Parenting is a communal effort and we need each other. If you sense the situation is not improving you may want to find a good therapist to work with you and your child. May we seek to truly fill our children with hope, meaning, and faith so that they may be formed in such a way that they flourish.



Join My Mailing List

Want to receive my blog posts, or periodic news/updates in your inbox? Join my mailing list. Don't worry, your email address is never sold or shared.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Reader Interactions


  1. This is a cogent and well presented article. It’s hard to believe how far from “common sense“ we have come as a society raising the next generation. Do you have laid out solid principles that when followed or sure to give children the best shot at living a healthy and productive life. Our country, even the world needs to take this to heart.
    Thank you for these simple but profound reminders!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Address Book Address Card adjust align-center align-justify align-left align-right ambulance American Sign Language Interpreting Anchor Angle Double Down Angle Double Left Angle Double Right Angle Double Up angle-down angle-left angle-right angle-up Archive Alternate Arrow Circle Down Alternate Arrow Circle Left Alternate Arrow Circle Right Alternate Arrow Circle Up Arrow Circle Down Arrow Circle Left Arrow Circle Right Arrow Circle Up arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up Alternate Arrows Alternate Arrows Horizontal Alternate Arrows Vertical Assistive Listening Systems asterisk At Audio Description backward Balance Scale ban Band-Aid barcode Bars Baseball Ball Basketball Ball Bath Battery Empty Battery Full Battery 1/2 Full Battery 1/4 Full Battery 3/4 Full Bed beer bell Bell Slash Bicycle Binoculars Birthday Cake Blind bold Lightning Bolt Bomb book bookmark Bowling Ball Box Boxes Braille Briefcase Bug Building bullhorn Bullseye Bus Calculator Calendar Alternate Calendar Calendar Check Calendar Minus Calendar Plus Calendar Times camera Retro Camera Car Caret Down Caret Left Caret Right Caret Square Down Caret Square Left Caret Square Right Caret Square Up Caret Up Shopping Cart Arrow Down Add to Shopping Cart certificate Area Chart Bar Chart Line Chart Pie Chart Check Check Circle Check Square Chess Chess Bishop Chess Board Chess King Chess Knight Chess Pawn Chess Queen Chess Rook Chevron Circle Down Chevron Circle Left Chevron Circle Right Chevron Circle Up chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up Child Circle Circle Notched Clipboard Clipboard Check Clipboard List Clock Clone Closed Captioning Cloud Cloud Download Alternate Cloud Upload Alternate Code Code Branch Coffee cog cogs Columns comment Alternate Comment comments Compass Compress Copy Copyright Credit Card crop Crosshairs Cube Cubes Cut Database Deaf Desktop DNA Dollar Sign Dolly Dolly Flatbed Dot Circle Download Edit eject Horizontal Ellipsis Vertical Ellipsis Envelope Envelope Open Envelope Square eraser Euro Sign Alternate Exchange exclamation Exclamation Circle Exclamation Triangle Expand Alternate Expand Arrows Alternate External Link Alternate External Link Square Eye Eye Dropper Eye Slash fast-backward fast-forward Fax Female fighter-jet File Alternate File Archive File Audio File Code File Excel File Image File PDF File Powerpoint File Video File Word File Film Filter fire fire-extinguisher First Aid flag flag-checkered Flask Folder Folder Open font Football Ball forward Frown Futbol Gamepad Gavel Gem Genderless gift Martini Glass Globe Golf Ball Graduation Cap H Square Lizard (Hand) Paper (Hand) Peace (Hand) Hand Pointing Down Hand Pointing Left Hand Pointing Right Hand Pointing Up Pointer (Hand) Rock (Hand) Scissors (Hand) Spock (Hand) Handshake Hashtag HDD heading headphones Heart Heartbeat History Hockey Puck home hospital Hospital Symbol Hourglass Hourglass End Hourglass Half Hourglass Start I Beam Cursor Identification Badge Identification Card Image Images inbox Indent Industry Info Info Circle italic key Keyboard Language Laptop leaf Lemon Level Down Alternate Level Up Alternate Life Ring Lightbulb Link Turkish Lira Sign List List Alternate list-ol list-ul location-arrow lock Lock Open Alternate Long Arrow Down Alternate Long Arrow Left Alternate Long Arrow Right Alternate Long Arrow Up Low Vision magic magnet Male Map map-marker Map Marker Alternate Map Pin Map Signs Mars Mars Double Mars Stroke Mars Stroke Horizontal Mars Stroke Vertical medkit Meh Mercury Microchip microphone Microphone Slash minus Minus Circle Minus Square Mobile Phone Alternate Mobile Money Bill Alternate Moon Motorcycle Mouse Pointer Music Neuter Newspaper Object Group Object Ungroup Outdent Paint Brush Pallet Paper Plane Paperclip paragraph Paste pause Pause Circle Paw Pen Square Alternate Pencil Percent Phone Phone Square Phone Volume Pills plane play Play Circle Plug plus Plus Circle Plus Square Podcast Pound Sign Power Off print Puzzle Piece qrcode Question Question Circle Quidditch quote-left quote-right random Recycle Redo Alternate Redo Registered Trademark Reply reply-all Retweet road rocket rss RSS Square Ruble Sign Indian Rupee Sign Save Search Search Minus Search Plus Server Share Alternate Share Alternate Share Square Share Square Shekel Sign Alternate Shield Ship Shipping Fast Shopping Bag Shopping Basket shopping-cart Shower Alternate Sign In Sign Language Alternate Sign Out signal Sitemap Horizontal Sliders Smile Snowflake Sort Sort Alpha Down Sort Alpha Up Sort Amount Down Sort Amount Up Sort Down (Descending) Sort Numeric Down Sort Numeric Up Sort Up (Ascending) Space Shuttle Spinner Square Square Full Star star-half step-backward step-forward Stethoscope Sticky Note stop Stop Circle Stopwatch Street View Strikethrough subscript Subway Suitcase Sun superscript Sync Alternate Sync Syringe table Table Tennis tablet Alternate Tablet Alternate Tachometer tag tags Tasks Taxi Terminal text-height text-width th th-large th-list Thermometer Thermometer Empty Thermometer Full Thermometer 1/2 Full Thermometer 1/4 Full Thermometer 3/4 Full thumbs-down thumbs-up Thumbtack Alternate Ticket Times Times Circle tint Toggle Off Toggle On Trademark Train Transgender Alternate Transgender Trash Alternate Trash Tree trophy truck TTY Television Umbrella Underline Undo Alternate Undo Universal Access University unlink unlock Alternate Unlock Upload User User Circle user-md Add User User Secret Remove User Users Utensil Spoon Utensils Venus Venus Double Venus Mars Video Volleyball Ball volume-down volume-off volume-up Warehouse Weight Wheelchair WiFi Window Close Window Maximize Window Minimize Window Restore Won Sign Wrench Yen Sign 500px Accessible Icon Accusoft App.net Adversal affiliatetheme Algolia Amazon Amazon Pay Amilia Android AngelList Angry Creative Angular App Store iOS App Store Apper Systems AB Apple Apple Pay Asymmetrik, Ltd. Audible Autoprefixer avianex Aviato Amazon Web Services (AWS) Bandcamp Behance Behance Square BIMobject Bitbucket Bitcoin Bity Font Awesome Black Tie BlackBerry Blogger Blogger B Bluetooth Bluetooth BTC Büromöbel-Experte GmbH & Co. KG. BuySellAds Amazon Pay Credit Card American Express Credit Card Apple Pay Credit Card Diner's Club Credit Card Discover Credit Card JCB Credit Card MasterCard Credit Card Paypal Credit Card Stripe Credit Card Visa Credit Card Centercode Chrome cloudscale.ch Cloudsmith cloudversify Codepen Codie Pie Connect Develop Contao cPanel Creative Commons CSS 3 Logo Alternate CSS3 Logo Cuttlefish Dungeons & Dragons DashCube Delicious Logo deploy.dog Deskpro deviantART Digg Logo Digital Ocean Discord Discourse DocHub Docker Draft2digital Dribbble Dribbble Square Dropbox Drupal Logo Dyalog Earlybirds Edge Browser Elementor Ember Galactic Empire Envira Gallery Erlang Ethereum Etsy ExpeditedSSL Facebook Facebook F Facebook Messenger Facebook Square Firefox First Order firstdraft Flickr Flipboard Fly Font Awesome Alternate Font Awesome Font Awesome Flag Fonticons Fonticons Fi Fort Awesome Alternate Fort Awesome Forumbee Foursquare Free Code Camp FreeBSD Get Pocket GG Currency GG Currency Circle Git Git Square GitHub Alternate GitHub GitHub Square GitKraken GitLab Gitter Glide Glide G Gofore Goodreads Goodreads G Google Logo Google Drive Google Play Google Plus Google Plus G Google Plus Square Google Wallet Gratipay (Gittip) Grav Gripfire, Inc. Grunt Gulp Hacker News Hacker News Square Hips HireAHelper Hooli Hotjar Houzz HTML 5 Logo HubSpot IMDB Instagram Internet-explorer ioxhost iTunes Itunes Note Jenkis Joget Joomla Logo JavaScript (JS) JavaScript (JS) Square jsFiddle KeyCDN Kickstarter Kickstarter K KORVUE Laravel last.fm last.fm Square Leanpub Less Line LinkedIn LinkedIn In Linode Linux lyft Magento MaxCDN MedApps Medium Medium M MRT Meetup Microsoft Mix Mixcloud Mizuni MODX Monero Napster Nintendo Switch Node.js Node.js JS npm NS8 Nutritionix Odnoklassniki Odnoklassniki Square OpenCart OpenID Opera Optin Monster Open Source Initiative page4 Corporation Pagelines Palfed Patreon Paypal Periscope Phabricator Phoenix Framework PHP Pied Piper Logo Alternate Pied Piper Logo Pied Piper PP Logo (Old) Pinterest Pinterest P Pinterest Square PlayStation Product Hunt Pushed Python QQ QuinScape Quora Ravelry React Rebel Alliance red river reddit Logo reddit Alien reddit Square Rendact Renren replyd Resolving Rocket.Chat Rockrms Safari Sass SCHLIX Scribd Searchengin Sellcast Sellsy Servicestack Shirts in Bulk SimplyBuilt SISTRIX skyatlas Skype Slack Logo Slack Hashtag Slideshare Snapchat Snapchat Ghost Snapchat Square SoundCloud Speakap Spotify Stack Exchange Stack Overflow StayLinked Steam Steam Square Steam Symbol Sticker Mule Strava Stripe Stripe S Studio Vinari StumbleUpon Logo StumbleUpon Circle Superpowers Supple Telegram Telegram Plane Tencent Weibo ThemeIsle Trello TripAdvisor Tumblr Tumblr Square Twitch Twitter Twitter Square Typo3 Uber UIkit Uniregistry Untappd USB us-Sunnah Foundation Vaadin Viacoin Viadeo Viadeo Square Viber Vimeo Vimeo Square Vimeo Vine VK VNV Vue.js Weibo Weixin (WeChat) What's App What's App Square WHMCS Wikipedia W Windows WordPress Logo Wordpress Simple WPBeginner WPExplorer WPForms Xbox Xing Xing Square Y Combinator Yahoo Logo Yandex Yandex International Yelp Yoast YouTube YouTube Square