PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Elizabeth Tillinghast is experiencing a lot of firsts these days, now that her parents feel more comfortable taking the 5-month-old out.

“I really want her to get out and have a social life and interact with other people, and the pandemic has made that really challenging,” said her mom, Kelsey Tillinghast.

As Kelsey works to build up her daughter’s social skills, she has a resource right at her fingertips to also support her mental health development.

The Greatest 8 is a free text message service developed in Rhode Island to help parents give their children the eight skills for mental wellness:

  • Accomod8: Coping and resilience
  • Collabor8: Problem solving
  • Elev8: Self-perceived confidence
  • Celebr8: Diversity awareness and respect
  • Negoti8: Conflict management and resolution
  • Contempl8: Identifying and understanding feelings
  • Regul8: Balancing emotions
  • Communic8: Communication skills

The weekly texts are catered to your child’s age, from newborn to 8 years old.

“We teach kids how to tie their shoes, we teach them how to talk, how to walk, but we’re not intentionally helping to build mental health skills,” Susan Orban explained.

Orban is the coordinator for the Washington County Coalition for Children, which developed the service along with partners URI and Brown University. She believes the issue of kids’ mental health has been simmering for quite a while, but COVID-19 catapulted it to the forefront, as the impacts of virtual learning, social isolation and wearing masks took hold.

“The pandemic has just pushed that stress level, and without the skills and knowing how to deal with it, children are really struggling,” Orban said.

The Greatest 8 was in development before the pandemic began, but the service is now in full force, with some 750 families signed up. The messages are 140 characters or less and designed for parents to be able to carry out in everyday moments.

For a busy mom like Kelsey, they’ve been a welcome and helpful addition to parenting.

“One of the ones I got a few weeks ago was: “Look in the mirror at your baby and smile and play and try to get a reaction,” she recalled.

The Greatest 8 has said it recognizes the need for its service within the Spanish-speaking community. It’s currently working to not only make their text messages available in Spanish, but also translate its entire website.

The Greatest 8: Learn more and sign up here »