How to approach the topic of mental health with children
Mental health is always a difficult subject to broach. Add in a child's natural curiosity and you may feel a bit overwhelmed or unsure how to proceed. The number one thing is to open the dialogue and never just sweep it under the rug or wait until they are older.
Whether mental health is prevalent in your child's life or not, educating the next generation on mental health is key in hopefully destigmatizing mental illness and creating a more accepting, comfortable world for the future.
Here are 4 tips on how to open a dialogue around mental health with your child:
1. Educate yourself on mental health. Before speaking with your child on the subject, be sure to brush up on your own knowledge and go into the conversation with updated information. There is a wealth of resources on the web, such as this Facts for Families page.
2. Communicate at a level appropriate to your child's age. Considering your child's age and maturity level will help lead the conversation in the right direction.
- Pre-school: Younger children require less details and more overarching understanding. Pre-school age children may notice someone's behavior or physical appearance rather than mental symptoms. Consider comparing mental illness to a physical illness to explain.
- School-age: As children get older they start wanting more details and answers that may stem from concern for family members and their safety. Here's a list of children's books that address mental health that may open up the conversation and help your child better understand the specifics.
- Teenagers: Teens are much more capable of receiving detailed information and may already have some misconceived perceptions of mental health due to exposure through peers and pop culture. Mental Health America puts together a great in-depth guide on starting the conversation with teens.
3. Answer any questions and be honest. Children often model behavior after parents. Therefore, if you are open and honest about the topic of mental health, it's more likely that your children will realize it's nothing to be ashamed of and comfortable to come to you with any problems. Don't try to avert any questions, and if you truly don't know the answer resources are available.
4. Keep the dialogue going. This conversation shouldn't be a once-and-done deal, but rather the start of a hopefully positive attitude about mental health. Have weekly or monthly check-ins with your child and see if they have any more questions.
If your child is struggling with mental illness, Acenda offers counseling and therapy services specifically for children and adolescents. Call our main number at 844-4-ACENDA (844-422-3632 x9500) for more information or to schedule an appointment.