The first time a parent hears their young child say an unpleasant word, their reaction is usually: “Where did you learn that?” The truth is, many times the child will point at the dad or mom. Oops!
Yes, our little ones are sponges that mimic what we say and do. Our positive and negative role modeling can stay with kids for a lifetime. With all the anxiety, loneliness and depression in today’s world, how to talk to your children about mental health can be tricky and revealing.
Watch Your Words And Clarify Your Own Feelings
It is hard to deny that there remains a stigma surrounding mental health illnesses. Sometimes we hear others make jokes or use the word “crazy” when describing someone.
At other times we are urged to fear someone with mental health issues. Neither fear nor making fun should be part of any conversation with children or teens about mental health.
Take Advantage Of Opportunities
If the family is watching TV or a movie together that features a person living with a mental health illness, use that as an opportunity to ask questions of children. Find out their opinions, what have they heard among their peers, and what do they think? Then listen.
It’s important that they know first that it’s okay to talk about it (and not make fun of someone), and second, there are treatments for those with mental health problems. Make this an opportunity to have a positive and informative discussion.
It is an illness like any other.
Be Open About Family Problems
If someone in the family has a mental health illness, explain to the younger ones how they may act, that they have medications to help, and that sometimes they may not be able to interact with you as you would like. Ensure that all discussions are done using age appropriate language, and respecting the privacy of your family members.
If one of your teens is depressed and there is fear they may harm themselves, it’s important to engage them in conversation. Let them know you are there and willing to listen any time, day or night. Ask if there is anything you can do to help.
If they share they are thinking about hurting themselves, don’t hesitate to get help. Your child needs to know that you take their concerns seriously and are a safe person to reach out to when they need more support.
Above all, fill your home with mental health awareness and education, so your children can teach others and grow up with the knowledge to help end stigma.
Contact Pathway Psychiatry if someone in your family is feeling depressed or anxious and needs some support.