The article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
Over the past several years, the number of people experiencing mental health struggles has increased significantly. In response, there has been a large-scale movement to raise mental health awareness and provide support to those in need.
Anyone can struggle with their mental health, including children. In many cases, parents know that talking to their children about their mental health is important, but they often don’t know how to start the conversation. Parents may believe that their kids are too young to discuss such a topic or worry that the conservation might upset them. Furthermore, parents might feel as if they don’t know enough about mental health to speak about it. However, despite these reservations, research shows the importance of talking to children about their mental well-being.
If you’re a parent seeking to start a conversation about mental health with your child, keep reading to gain insight into making the process smooth and productive.
Time And Place Matters
When speaking about a topic like mental health, it’s important to consider the timing and setting of the conversation. If your child is having a bad day, fighting with you, or seems tired, it might not be the best time to open a dialogue. Similarly, if you’re in a public setting where others may be able to overhear what the two of you are talking about, waiting is advisable.
Ideally, you want your child to feel comfortable and removed from any distractions. You don’t have to plan the conversation ahead of time but remember to be mindful of the environment and both of your moods.
Speaking about mental health can be difficult for anyone, including parents. If you need help getting the conversation started with your child, it could be useful to consider individual or family therapy. Working with a therapist can help ensure that the conversation remains open, healthy, and productive. Platforms like BetterHelp offer resources for finding the right therapist for you or your family. This includes options for online therapy, which may be a convenient option for parents with busy schedules.
Ask Your Child If You Can Talk With Them
When it seems like the right moment, you can say something like, “Can I talk to you about something important?” This way, you’re letting your child know that you’d like their full attention while also giving them the opportunity to say no. If your child doesn’t feel like talking, ask them when a better time might be.
Explain Mental Health In Simple Terms
Mental health is a complex topic, even for adults. When talking to your child about their mental well-being, it’s vital to use language they’ll understand.
Consider the age of your child as well as their ability to put their feelings into words. Kids who haven’t fully developed their vocabulary might say that they’re feeling really sad, which could indicate depression—a disorder they may not know the word for yet. As their parent, you can begin to introduce these words as needed so that they can communicate more effectively about their thoughts and feelings. Younger kids may benefit from an emotions worksheet, which allows them to point at the facial expression that portrays how they’re feeling.
Lead With Compassion
Talking about mental health can be challenging, making it important to approach the conversation with compassion, understanding, and nonjudgment. Be sure to practice active listening, taking the time to hear what your child is conveying before responding. While you may not understand everything your child says, you can still stay open to the conversation and encourage openness by reminding your child that you’re not there to judge them.
Let Them Ask Questions
Kids are naturally curious, meaning they may have a lot of questions when you talk to them about mental health. Allow them to ask you as many questions as they’d like and do your best to respond. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to say so. You can let your child know you’ll follow up with them later after doing some research or take them to someone who might know the answer, such as a therapist.
Not all questions have an answer, and that’s okay. Let your child know that everyone’s journey with mental health looks different and that it’s normal to experience uncertainty along the way. Admit where you might fall short in knowing the answers to the questions they’re asking while reminding them that there are people trained in mental health who may be able to give them the answers they’re looking for.
Ask Them Questions
Sometimes, you may need to ask your child some difficult questions, including those about suicide. Many assume that asking about suicide only increases a person’s distress, but in reality, the opposite is true. Research shows that “talking about suicide provides the opportunity for communication” and that talking about these feelings can actually be encouraging to the individual struggling with them. Remember to approach such discussions with empathy and sensitivity, as talking about these topics can be difficult for both parties.
If you feel that your child may be experiencing a mental health concern, it’s crucial to ask them about it. In the case that your child doesn’t feel comfortable opening up to you, there might be another trusted individual that you can direct them to, such as another family member, a coach, or a school counselor.
Focus On Prevention
Prevention and early intervention can lower your child’s risk of developing a mental health disorder. Teaching your child about self-care, which includes eating a healthy diet, regularly exercising, and getting enough sleep at night, can help ensure that they stay physically and mentally well.
Talk to your child about their interests and hobbies, encouraging them to pursue the activities they enjoy. Remind them that struggling with their mental health is not their fault and nothing to be ashamed of and that they can always come to you or another trusted individual if they’re having a difficult time.
If your child reveals that they’re struggling with their mental health, it could be useful to find them a therapist to work with. Child therapists are trained to understand children and adolescents, including how their brains work and which approaches may be most effective in treating mental health conditions during this stage of life.
Do Frequent Check-Ins
Mental health can fluctuate from one day to the next. It’s essential to take a proactive approach by doing frequent check-ins with your child about how they’re feeling. Each check-in can be short and simple, such as asking, “How are you feeling lately? Anything you need my help with?” Depending on their answer, you can infer whether to ask more questions and open up a larger conversation or move on to other topics. Remember to prioritize active listening, taking the time to truly hear what your child is saying.
In today’s age, where mental health conditions are on the rise, parents must be proactive in opening a discussion about this topic with their children. While it’s natural not to have all the answers and may even be intimidating to talk about, there are plenty of resources and strategies to help parents ease into a productive conversation.
Factors like timing, environment, and your child’s age are all critical to consider when starting a discussion about mental health. Leading with compassion, patience, and honesty can result in more successful conversations, as well as allowing your child to ask as many questions as they’d like. Some questions may be more difficult than others, but it’s important not to avoid the tougher topics, such as suicide-related concerns.
By creating an open, supportive environment, parents can help ensure that their children feel safe coming to them about their feelings. Still, no one has all the answers, and involving other trusted individuals or a therapist can be beneficial. Focusing on prevention and reminding your child that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, can encourage transparency and trust. By following these guidelines, parents can help their children navigate the complexities of mental health with confidence and care.