For most people, discussing mental health can feel uncomfortable. But all parents wonder how to talk to kids about mental health. This is a whole other level. However, talking mental health with kids doesn’t have to be awkward, uncomfortable or anything of the like.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with a mental illness, you know firsthand how the diagnosis can impact your life. Mental illness is not only challenging for adults to understand but children as well. With so many myths and misconceptions surrounding mental illness, it’s easy for kids to feel anxious and confused about mental health.
Tips on how to talk to kids about mental health
1. Be Open
Your child is most likely noticing a change or difference in behavior from Mom, Dad, or another relative with mental illness. There is no point in trying to keep it a secret. Be open about the diagnosis and give the illness a name (depression, bipolar disorder). Doing so will help alleviate some fear and insecurities as well as clear up any incorrect assumptions.
2. Alleviate Fault or Responsibility
Most kids naturally feel they want to help fix Mommy or Daddy, or they may feel something they did caused their loved one to not be well. Reassure your child by explaining that the illness is not their fault nor their responsibility.
3. Invite Their Honesty
While you may feel you need to keep a stiff upper lip for your spouse or loved one’s benefit, your kids should feel free to openly express their feelings, whether these feelings be fear, sadness, or anger. Listen to whatever they say without judging what they say.
4. Invite Questions
Your kids will have a lot of questions, so encourage them to ask. If they don’t feel comfortable asking questions face-to-face, use a journal. They can write down any questions they want to ask, and you can write the answers and give it back to them. Knowing they can come to you and that you are still the parent will give them a much-needed sense of calm and security.
5. Communicate at a Level that is Age Appropriate
Preschool-age children will need different language than teenagers. They will need less details, whereas older children will want more details. School-age children will take the information shared and begin to worry what it means for them and the family. Be prepared to answer many questions concerning their safety and security.
Teenagers, on the other hand, are a unique bunch – you will have to follow your teen’s lead. Some may speak openly, already aware to a certain extent about mental health issues. Some may appear withdrawn and not say too much at all. You’ll want to continue to check in with them to make sure they are doing okay.
Parenting is hard. But it doesn’t always have to be. Talking to your kids about mental health won’t be easy, but as long as you follow these tips, you will have an opportunity to share important information and offer love, support, and guidance. If you’re dealing with mental health issues in the family and finding it difficult to talk to your kids about it, find an awesome therapist you like and trust to help guide you through the process.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Greater New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.