Mental health is a tough problem to tackle, no matter how old you are. But between raging hormones, a developing brain, social stigma, and plenty of misinformation, it’s an especially tough topic for most kids – all while the number of children and teens experiencing mental illnesses is on the rise.
Caring for your child’s mental health can be just as important as their physical health, which is why we recommend having honest discussions about their mental well-being from an early age. Whether your child is already struggling with their mental health or you want to be proactive before any challenges occur, use these strategies to talk to your kids about their mental health.
Confront Any Internalized Bias or Stigma
Most of us adults grew up during a time when the narrative surrounding mental health sounded very different than it does today. Before you raise the subject with your kids, spend some time reflecting on any bias or stigma about mental health or wellness you may have internalized in your own childhood or beyond. Ask yourself:
- Do you have negative opinions about certain mental health conditions?
- How do you feel about your own mental health?
- Have you ever sought mental health care? If so, what was that experience like for you?
- Do you have any fears related to mental health? If so, where do you think they come from?
The more honest you can be with yourself about your views on mental health, the more comfortable you’ll be talking with your children.
Model Positive Behavior When Sharing Emotions
Children, especially young ones, will model the behavior of their parents and trusted adults in their lives. By being consistently open about the existence and importance of mental health, you can lead by example. Show your child it’s alright to acknowledge their emotions by talking about your own (within reason) or demonstrate some positive habits you have that help you process those feelings.
Validate Their Feelings
When your child is upset, your first instinct might be to reassure them that things aren’t so bad. But as an adult, it’s easy to forget that social pressures in young people’s lives – online and off – can have very real effects on their mental wellness. Instead of explaining why their concerns about popularity won’t matter 10 years from now, try to see the situation from their perspective and validate their feelings.
Ask, Don’t Interrogate
We encourage parents to ask questions about their children’s daily lives, even when nothing is wrong. This opens a communication channel that lets kids know it’s alright to talk things through with you without feeling like they’ll be put under a microscope at the first sign that something’s wrong. And if you do have the sense that something isn’t quite right, asking your child gentle, open-ended questions like, “What was difficult for you today?” will help you avoid getting one-word answers, like “fine” or “whatever.”
Don’t Take It Personally
Much of the time, mental illnesses are caused by an inherited trait or a chemical imbalance in the brain, not by the way you parent. If your child is struggling with their mental health, it doesn’t mean you did something wrong. In fact, helping them through this tough time is a testament to your love and support.
At Jamison Consultants, we’re committed to providing our patients with therapeutic and behavioral health services that will make a lasting difference in their lives. Our licensed therapist and counselors are equipped to care for patients with a variety of mental health diagnoses during individual, group, or family therapy, school-based counseling, or crisis management sessions. Learn more about our behavioral health services here.