According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (2023), each year 1 in 6 youth (6 -17 years old) experience mental health symptoms. Talking with your children about mental health may seem daunting or overwhelming, but it is essential in order to help them thrive.
How can you start a conversation about mental health with your kids?
Here are some tips:
1. Choose the Right Time and Place: Begin the conversation when both you and your child are in a calm and relaxed state of mind. Avoid bringing up mental health during moments of tension or conflict. Establishing a safe, relaxed environment allows your child to feel comfortable speaking openly about their thoughts and feelings without judgment.
2. Use Age-Appropriate Language: Mental health terms can be complex, so break it down into simpler terms that your child can understand. You might use metaphors or share personal examples. For example, “We play sports and exercise to keep our bodies strong. We can listen to relaxing music and take deep slow breaths to exercise our minds too.”
3. Normalize Mental Health Conversations: Make discussing mental health a regular part of your conversations, just like discussing physical health. Sharing your own experiences about how you manage stress or handle difficult emotions will demonstrate that it’s a normal part of life.
4. Be an Active Listener: It is so important to be present and practice active listening when your child talks about their mental health. Maintain eye contact (put down your phone!) and ask open-ended questions to encourage them to express themselves. Validate their feelings and tr avoid dismissing or minimizing their experience.
5. Give Your Unconditional Support: Take the opportunity to remind your child that you are there to support them always. Use hugs, and other forms of touch, to bond and connect without words too. If your child is experiencing any form of mental health distress, let them know you are there to help them, and will seek help whether from family, friends, or mental health professionals.
Here’s to Your Well Being!
Melissa Barry, LSW