Talking to Your Children About Mental Health & Wellness
Mental health is a spectrum that people move up and down throughout their lives. Sometimes you feel better and stronger than other times. Sometimes we experience life events that we feel we can process on our own, and other times we need help to get through and heal from a difficult experience.
This truth applies to children as well as adults. Just as you might feel your child’s forehead to check for a fever, it is important to be attentive to your child’s mental health. Each year, many children are diagnosed with and treated for anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. This is normal, and not a reason for parents or children to feel shame.
The subject of mental health can be intimidating or downright scary. It can be hard to know when or how to start the conversation. Here are some suggestions for starting to talk with your child about mental wellness.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Asking questions is important, as children often don’t have the words or perspective to bring up complex and painful emotions. Indeed, talking about complex emotional experiences is difficult for adults.
As a parent or guardian, asking questions about your child’s thoughts and feelings can open the door to conversations about wellbeing that your child didn’t know how to access.
When you ask questions, it is important to stay calm so that your child can focus on expressing himself rather than worrying about what you are thinking or feeling. Maintain an interested rather than interrogative demeanor. Even if you feel afraid of what your child shares with you, avoid panicking and catastrophizing. Follow up with open questions such as: “Do you know why you might be feeling this way?”, or “Can you tell me more about that?”
Try talking with your child and reach out to a pediatric mental healthcare provider if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Lack of energy
- Loss of interest in things they previously enjoyed
- Trouble focusing on a given task
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Acting out
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of appetite
Lead with Your Experiences
By sharing your own experience with your child, you help remove the stigma of seeking help for mental health concerns. Lead by example. Talking about your own experience with feelings of sadness, worry, trauma, and social challenges will demonstrate to your child that these topics are not taboo — your child is safe to share feelings and concerns with you.
You may be afraid to share these experiences with your child. That is normal. You want your child to see you as strong and brave. Ironically, by sharing about times when you experienced anxiety or depression, you are modeling the strength and bravery of vulnerability. Your child will feel more comfortable sharing with you when you model openness and comfort discussing mental health as a normal part of being human.
As you share your experiences, be truthful but age-appropriate in your disclosures. Focus on describing the feelings rather than the details of your experience, as those may be age-inappropriate or triggering to your child or teen.
Practice Positive Behaviors
Practice positive and encouraging behaviors around the topics of mental wellness. Be mindful of the words you use when talking about mental health. Even when joking, avoid stigmatizing words such as “crazy,” “nuts,” or “psycho.”
Model good self-care. Not only will you feel better, but you will set an example for your child.
Be open about the habits, resources, and activities you use to support and maintain your own mental health.
Seek Support for Yourself
Parenting can be overwhelming, especially when your child is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other illnesses. Consider finding a therapist for yourself. Wellness is a state that requires regular attention: you would not expect a vehicle to keep running without tune-ups and mental health is no different.
Creating a safe place for yourself to process your parenting concerns and challenges allows you the emotional capacity to support your child in her experience. Your mental health provider can offer perspective on how to can best support your child.
Having someone you trust will give you confidence as you care for your child’s mental wellbeing.
Mental Health Services in Butte County
Since opening our doors in 2008, Therapeutic Solutions has provided high-quality behavioral healthcare to people in Chico, Yuba City and surrounding communities. If you or a loved one is experiencing depression, anxiety, or any other behavioral health concern, we are here to help with a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.
Call our center today at (530) 899-3150 for an assessment and more information about our behavioral health services.