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How to Talk to Kids About Mental Health

It’s important to have open discussions about kids’ mental health. Here are some tips for talking with children about mental health.

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how to talk about mental health with children

How to Talk With Children About Mental Health

It may feel intimidating to talk about mental health with children. Mental illness itself can be difficult to understand; there is a lot of stigma and misinformation floating around. Most children won’t ask for help because they are worried about being judged or bullied by their family and friends.

As parents, we need to work towards normalizing the conversation about mental health with our children. It will help our children feel more comfortable opening up to us for support and guidance, and can also help us get early treatment if needed. Here are some tips on how to start the discussion with your children and educate them about the importance of mental health. 

Use visual aids

Young children focus on what they can see since their comprehension level is low. They are able to remember things that they see more than things that are told to them. For example, they will notice someone crying and yelling, or a person’s strange appearance or behavior, rather than understanding what the person is saying. 

Use visual objects such as puppets, coloring sheets, and picture books to show them what different emotions and behaviors can look like and what they can mean. 

Assure them that mental health struggles are not their fault

Children struggling with mental health issues may begin to feel that something is wrong with them, and blame themselves. They may begin to feel guilty and shameful, which can hurt their self esteem. 

As a parent, focus on emphasizing the best qualities of their personality and their strengths. This will let your child know that problematic feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are not the defining part of who they are. And remember to maintain positivity by reminding your child that you love them.

Be a role model – demonstrate positive mental health habits

Just like the saying “monkey see, monkey do”, children absorb and learn from your actions more than your words. Remember that you serve as a role model to your children, and use this opportunity to demonstrate what positive mental health habits look like. 

For example, self care habits are a great way to teach your children about healthy outlets for stress. Because teenagers are at higher risk for stress and anxiety, you can model the benefits of a good night’s sleep and exercise schedule. 

Teach children and teens that getting enough sleep helps to keep feelings of anxiety and stress low, and that exercise can help relieve existing stress. You may want to pick up hobbies like journaling, listening to music, or writing. This can show your children that there are many enjoyable ways to help you feel calm if life gets tough.

Take breaks from your work and spend time with your family. This will show your children that it is okay to take some time for themselves if they feel overwhelmed. 

Allow open communication

Social stigma and other barriers stand in the way of people getting mental health treatment. Create a safe space for your children to talk about all of their thoughts and emotions. This will prevent them from feeling guilty or embarrassed, and can teach them that talking it out is a great coping skill.

When your child comes to you, they are also reaching out for some reassurance or relief, so having that open door available to them will also prevent them from feeling hopeless. 

Don’t be afraid to discuss suicide

Sadly, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people. While it may feel taboo and scary to talk about suicide and death with your child, you may be the best person and in the best position to catch the warning signs and get help. 

It is better to discuss the topic openly and in a straightforward manner rather than dancing around the topic. If you are concerned about your child having suicidal thoughts, ask them a direct question such as: “Are you have thoughts of killing yourself?” or “Have you been thinking about suicide?”. You can go further and ask “Do you have a plan for how you want to kill yourself?”.

These questions alone may help instantly relieve some pressure they are feeling, as asking direct questions lets your child know that you are here to listen to them. This will also help you as a parent understand what pain your child may be feeling. 

Focus on being available to your child, and you can help lower their anxiety, offer hope, and persuade them to receive professional help when needed.

Tips for Talking about Mental Health with Children

What tips would you add to this post for discussing mental health with children?

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Eman Haddad
Eman Haddad is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and writer who has been invested in children and adolescent mental health since 2018. She is currently writing educational pieces about mental health while seeing patients in the outpatient setting.
Eman believes that children’s mental health should be prioritized in order to prevent severe or worsening effects of stress in adulthood. She encourages a holistic approach that focuses on psychotherapy as the main component of mental health treatment, and psychotropic medications as a supplementary option if necessary.
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