How to Talk to Your Children About Mental Health

It can be hard to talk to your children about sensitive or “adult” topics such as mental health. However, it is still necessary. Therapists, like the counselors at BetterHelp, can do a lot to help you and your children. However, it is also important as a parent to speak with your child.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has statistics on mental illness in children and the numbers are staggering. Over 7 percent of children ages three to 17 have diagnosed anxiety. Over 3 percent of children three to 17 have diagnosed depression. Parents should be supportive, communicative, and comforting. Here are some ways that can help you speak to your children about mental health.

Model Emotion

Children model their behaviors on their parents, so it is important to speak about your own emotions. You should try to stay positive, but do not worry if you get the blues. Instead, show them that it is okay to feel sad and speak to them about positive, healthy ways to manage difficult emotions.

Ask and Answer Questions

Most parents are interested in the things that affect our children. Open-ended questions can help avoid mundane and repetitive answers from our children. These lines of communication do not necessarily have to be directly about mental health. If you repeatedly ask your children questions, such as “How did that make you feel?” or “What was difficult about it?” then you open the lines of communication about emotions as well.

If they seem to have a hard time telling you about their daily routines and activities, then talk about your day. This models the correct way to tell stories, learn from mistakes, and share grievances. Then, the children will be more comfortable talking to you about their own experiences.

Also, children are inquisitive and curious. Answer their questions if you can. If you do not know the answer, it is okay to tell them that or you can say you will find the answer for them.

Be Honest

It is often easier to avoid the topic of your own mental health, but appropriate transparency with children can help your family avoid the stigma that surrounds mental health. We often talk to our children about physical health and nutrition, so why should mental health be any different? If you struggle with mental health issues, open to your children about them. This also means to talk about any medications your may be taking to benefit your mental health.

Be Direct

If you notice warning signs of mental illness, such as behavioral shifts, altered eating habits, changes in sleeping patterns, and loss of interest, then it is okay to be direct. When you do ask your children about their emotions and mental health, be supportive. Let them know that you trust them with your nonverbal and verbal cues. 

Also, try to communicate on a level that is appropriate for the age of the child. This may even mean having the child pick emojis based on their feelings. Pay attention to the ways your child communicates and adjust to suit their comfort levels.

Do Not Be Afraid to Seek Help

If you think that your child is struggling, it is always a good idea to find a psychiatric professional to help. You should also tell their Primary Care Physician and let them know why you are worried.

Final Thoughts

Talking to children about mental health should be normalized. You can easily start to incorporate some conversations about emotions, desires, and worries. Be honest with your children and let them learn from your behavior. Show them how to manage their emotions with healthy habits. Earn their trust to increase the chances of them speaking to you if they begin to feel anxious or depressed. Show them that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.

Marie Miguel

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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