The taboo around mental health and mental illness has slowly been dissipating over the past few years. Many people view mental health as an adult issue, but 10% of children aged 5-16 have a diagnosable mental health problem. It can be hard to talk about such a heavy topic with kids, but having an open dialogue is important. Here are a few tips to help you talk about mental health with your children.
Like with any big topic such as death, bodies maturing, or other issues, it’s important to keep the discussion age-appropriate. A 5-year-old won’t understand depression the same way that a teenager does. When parents use age-appropriate examples and words it helps their child understand better. It also gives them the words to express any issues. If you start talking about this when your child is young, be sure to touch in every few years and expand the topic to fit their current age.
Mental health is a serious topic, but that doesn’t mean kids necessarily want or can have a serious talk about it. Parents should take their kids cues and be flexible about where and where they discuss it. If your child is more talkative in a car where they don’t have to face you maybe talk about it there. If they’re more receptive while they’re playing that’s fine too. Don’t try to force an intense face-to-face conversation unless the situation demands it.
If you or someone in your family is struggling with mental health issues, your child will probably ask how they can help. Parents often tell their kids not to worry, but most children will anyways. Let them feel helpful by giving them clear, simple tasks like chores around the home. This will help build responsibility and allow them to feel helpful.
Kids are naturally curious, so if mental health is something they’ve never heard of before be prepared for plenty of questions. Make sure you’re well informed before entering the conversation. If a question comes up that you don’t know the answer to be honest about it. If your child is old enough, you can help them research their questions or provide them with additional reading. Being receptive to questions show your child that you’re willing to have an open and ongoing dialogue about it.
As a parent, sometimes it’s hard to admit that we don’t know things. Honesty is key when talking about mental health, so if a question comes up that you don’t know; it’s perfectly okay to say that. The more honest you are with your child, the more likely they are to be honest with you.
Check in Regularly
Kids go through lots of changes over the years. It can be tempting to write off talking about mental health as a one-time thing. But as your kid grows and matures, they start to experience more life and can understand mental health better. Be sure to check in with your kids regularly. That way mental health becomes a regular maintenance check rather than an emergency.
Dr. Rodriguez founded the Delray Center in 2003 and built it on a foundation of core clinical, professional, and ethical principles that are adhered to still to this day. Dr. Rodriguez founded the Delray Center in 2003 and built it on a foundation of core clinical, professional, and ethical principles that are adhered to still to this day.