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Regardless of age, discussions around mental health can sometimes feel taboo. When someone you care about is struggling, it’s challenging to know where to start. Perhaps more challenging, where do you begin in discussing your own experiences?
As parents and caregivers, you want what’s best for your child. The best way to promote your child’s understanding of mental health is to start a conversation that supports their experiences, answers their questions, and encourages them to be mindful of their own well-being.
More than ever, your children rely on you to clear up misinformation and discuss mental health openly and honestly. Don’t let the challenges or awkwardness of these conversations dissuade you from discussing mental health with your child. Here are five ways to start the conversation.
Communicate openly and honestly.
A conversation with your child is the first step to getting the ball rolling. When discussing topics of mental health, it is best to be straightforward. Instead of worrying about messing up, respond honestly with what you know. You may ask questions like “How have you been feeling?” or “Can you tell me more about what’s been going on?” to start the conversation. Children may naturally have many questions, and it’s okay to say you don’t know. Kids appreciate that we’re learning right alongside them.
Keep it developmentally appropriate.
Often, it’s helpful to let your child’s questions or comments guide where the conversation takes you. It’s crucial to keep your child or adolescent’s age and development in mind. For younger children, it’s best to keep explanations simple. You can utilize children’s books to expand the conversation. Please do your best to avoid dumping adult problems or fears on them without considering how they may interpret that information.
Provide concrete examples.
Children appreciate straightforward explanations that are easy to understand. Just like a cough or a cold, sometimes our brains get sick. Like other illnesses, there are many doctors and treatments to help. Explain to your child that they can come to you if they are ever worried about their thoughts or feelings. Emphasize that you can help and reiterate that it’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
One of the greatest gifts you can offer your child is to show them that it’s possible to navigate big feelings. One way you can do this is by reflecting on what your child sees when you’re sad or upset. Sharing your experiences can reassure your children that they’re not alone in their thoughts and feelings. Modeling self-care and how you manage big emotions can help your child feel better equipped. With this being said, be very mindful of your boundaries. Parents who overshare and treat their children as friends or therapists can unintentionally burden them.
When having conversations about mental health with your children, it’s natural to want to lead the discussion. However, it’s essential that you pause to ensure they have the opportunity to share what’s on their mind. Providing your child the chance to speak openly, without interruption, creates a safe space for them to feel heard. Your child may say things that concern you or that you disagree with, but it’s crucial not to interject or invalidate their experience. Instead, remain open, ask questions, and communicate your top priority: ensuring their well-being. By remaining open, you will create an invitation for your child to continue the conversation whenever they need it. As their parent, you can help them understand that mental health conditions are common and nothing to be ashamed about.
Learn more about how to support your child today.
If you’re searching for ways to support your child’s mental health, look no further.
Idaho Youth Ranch nurtures hope, healing, and resilience through in-office and Telehealth counseling and therapies. We can help your family start and continue the conversation about mental health to reconnect and strengthen your relationships. Get help today!
Even if mental health disorders have not impacted your family personally, these conversations and discussions are just as meaningful. Teaching your children about mental health and handling big emotions is key to raising healthy and resilient kids. Even if your child doesn’t struggle with mental health concerns, you are equipping them with the knowledge to support others on their journeys empathically.
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