Hard Conversations: How To Talk To Children About Mental Health
It’s about that time of year when we slow down and thank all of the lovely parents and caregivers in our lives. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are all about celebrating, we think they are also a timely opportunity to talk about how parents can discuss mental health with their children.
“We actually are doing our kids a favor by normalizing the fact that all of us as human beings have mental health struggles and at times, that we all go through experiences and periods of time where our mood is lower, or we are really anxious and stressed about things”
Rates of anxiety and depression have increased over time, including amongst kids. Mental health is important but can be a heavy subject. It is hard enough to address it with adults, but talking about it with kids can be even more daunting. After all, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health and mental illness in our society. But, stopping the stigma in your own space is an important way to make sure your child has a more positive association with their mental health. Below, we’re sharing some ideas on how to create an open dialogue around mental health with your kids, so they feel safe and heard.
Be Careful With Your Words
So often we speak and don’t even really consider the words we’re saying, but children listen and they often internalize their parents’ beliefs as their own. Be cognizant of the fact that there is a little someone listening and picking up on your attitude towards things.
If you find yourself being judgmental around emotional, touchy subjects or dismissing other peoples feelings of anxiety, fear, worry, and the like, take a step back and try to reevaluate your approach to be a bit more gentle and inclusive. Doing this will help your child see a good example of what it looks like to talk about mental health openly, instead of perpetuating the stigma around the subject.
Help Them Understand
Understanding mental health issues can be hard. After all, we can’t see them. When we see a bruise, we know someone is hurt. But mental health is often invisible, at least at first glance. To help them better understand mental health try comparing it to any other medical issue. For example, if you got an ear infection you would take medication to make it go away, right? If your brain is hurting then, why should you let it suffer without any treatment? Mental health includes brain health.
Let them know their brain is like any other body part. It is powerful and it needs to be treated properly to stay in its best shape.
Be A Good Listener
So often people, especially kids, just want to feel heard. We know life gets busy, but making time to genuinely listen to your kid talk about what they are feeling can be really helpful. Be gentle, curious, and empathize with how they are feeling.
When it comes to mental health, many of us are afraid to tell others how we feel because we are ashamed. It feels like a poor reflection on us. That we have a problem and that we can’t handle our emotions. As an adult, you likely know that mental health is no one's fault and is much more complex than that, but kids aren’t there yet. As you listen, you may uncover things about how your child feels that you can help lead them out of.
Let Them Know It Isn’t Their Fault
Mental health is something we have, it is not what we are. But, so often we feel defined by our mental health, especially if we have a more serious mental health condition. Let your child know that there is nothing wrong with them and that mental health conditions are very common. If you have personal experiences to share, share them. If certain mental health issues run in your family, that would be great to share too. Try to also focus on all of the other amazing things about them. Talk about the traits and characteristics that make them unique, so they can see that they are so much more than their mental health.
Find Someone They Can Talk To
We hope that they will feel comfortable talking to you or a family member, but if they don’t, they may actually feel more comfortable discussing their feelings with an outsider, especially because some of their mental health issues may be related to family matters. A therapist or school counselor are both great options for mental health services. If those are not in the cards you can even try to have them talk to another trusted adult, like a grandparent or teacher.
You’re Doing Great
To all the mothers, fathers, parents, and caregivers out there, thank you for taking the time to read this and help the next generation break the stigma. You’re doing amazing!
Thank you for continuing the conversation this mental health awareness month. Childhood and adolescence can shape so much within a child's mind and so it can be ideal to begin addressing types of mental well-being from an early age.
Supporting Kids' Mental Well-being | On Our Sleeves