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How to Talk to Your Child About Their Mental Health


Mental health is a topic that is important and unavoidable. Tough conversations, difficult experiences, big emotions, and challenging topics present themselves at home, work, school, in newsfeeds, on social media, and in our communities. Starting these conversations can be uncomfortable and flat-out hard – especially with children. Finding ways and the time to hold space for these conversations and providing supportive measures are crucial. Contrary to popular belief, there is no specific age or timeline to do so. Just like with any other aspect of health, the more proactive and informed we are, the better chance we have of a positive outcome.


As we recognize Mental Illness Awareness Week, we acknowledge that our children are also living with mental health conditions; but there are ways caregivers can help. Below are suggestions for how to start these conversations and how to set your family up for success for continued communication surrounding mental health. As you learn what works best for you and your child remember that there are people and resources available to provide additional support as needed. You are never alone.

 

Communicate Well and Often

  • First, put yourself in your child’s shoes. Then ask yourself “Is this the right time to talk?”.

  • Be an active listener first then respond calmly.

  • Ask open-ended questions without it feeling like an interrogation session.

  • Label their emotions (i.e., guilt, sadness, anger).

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide.

  • Stay with the feelings they share. Don’t try to move past them or onto positive ones.

  • Ask your child if they have ideas for how you can help.

  • Let them ask you questions, too. Answer honestly; and if you don’t know the answer it is okay to say that.

  • Hold space for frequent conversations and touch base often, as there could be new or developing issues that need treatment and support.


Give Love

  • Don’t try to “fix” them.

  • Show caring behavior and patience in both your body language and word choices.

  • Be encouraging by providing positive praise, emphasizing the child’s strength, and recognizing the positive choices they make.

  • Let your child know this is not their fault, their emotions are nothing to be ashamed of, and this is not a sign something is wrong with them as a person.

  • Offer assurance and reminders of how much you believe in them and love them.


Offer Respect

  • Avoid hurtful labels, criticizing, and making assumptions.

  • Offer your undivided attention during difficult conversations.

  • Be consistent and follow through with what you offer.

  • Set and respect boundaries.

  • Involve your child in decisions.

  • Validate what they are saying – help them feel heard and seen.


Educate Yourself and Your Child

  • Educate yourself on mental illness.

  • Be aware of signs and symptoms.

  • Keep an eye out for any changes in behavior.

  • Help your child learn their body's queues for anxiety and overwhelm.

  • Work together to develop a plan of care with any necessary providers, etc.

  • Teach your child coping skills and techniques.

  • Address any stigmas, misconceptions, and misinformation your child may have.


Provide a Safe Environment

  • Promote stability and routine.

  • Make play and movement a requirement.

  • Emphasize the importance of healthy eating and sleep habits.

  • Help your child manage stress by building in mindful rest time.

  • Decrease social media time in the home.

  • Surround them with healthy adults.

  • Have scheduled family time.


Practice Self-Care

  • Manage your own feelings first and check yourself for potential biases and misconceptions.

  • Don’t be afraid to seek your own support.

  • Be a role model who takes an active role in caring for themselves by demonstrating healthy behaviors, communication, lifestyle choices, etc.

  • Talk about self-care with your child… what it is and why it matters.

  • Understand your limitations as a caregiver in providing support.


Encourage Other Relationships

  • In some cases, having other family members present (like older siblings) for conversations is appropriate, as mental health conditions should not be a secret.

  • As children grow up, encourage the sharing of their experiences and emotions with peers they feel safe being vulnerable with.

  • Support them to connect and build positive relationships with other trusted adults – relatives and/or professionals.


If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.

Our team at Hearts Connected is always available and ready to help you or your child navigate the difficult challenges that life can bring. No waitlists, just support. Reach out to us today by calling or scheduling a free consultation.





Additional recommended resources for mental health: