According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in 5 kids has a diagnosable mental health issue. Acknowledging the real prevalence of mental health issues is important, and it gives us an opportunity to focus on starting open, honest conversations about mental health early on. By talking about it with your kids, you’re establishing yourself as someone they can feel comfortable coming to if they’re ever struggling and encouraging them to start checking in on their mental health as a crucial part of their overall well-being.
Starting discussions around things like depression or anxiety won’t cause your kids to start having trouble with their mental health, either. Even with a topic as serious as suicide, we know that talking about it won’t encourage it. In fact, talking about these things with your kids helps to break down the stigma around mental health and promote healthy habits.
Here are 6 things to keep in mind when starting a conversation with your kids about their mental health.
1. Start talking!
The first step is simple: just get the conversation going. If your child is struggling with their mental health, and especially if they’re experiencing any symptoms of depression, they may feel extremely isolated. They might not feel comfortable initiating a conversation about their mental health on their own, so simply sitting down with them and checking in can go a long way towards making them feel understood and less alone. Ask your child directly if they’ve been struggling with their mental health, and let them know that you’re there to hear them out.
2. Don’t try to “fix” their thoughts.
Parents are expert problem solvers, but sometimes the best way to help your kids is just to listen. This can be difficult, especially if you’re hearing your kids tell you that they’re dealing with negative thoughts or struggling with their self-image. However, try not to shut their thoughts down. No parent wants to hear their child express that they feel worthless, or are struggling to find meaning in their lives, but trying to correct them or prove them wrong, even if you’re doing so to try and help them, might just make them feel ashamed of their thoughts and can actually discourage them from being open with you about what they’re feeling.
3. Validate their feelings.
If your child does admit to struggling with their mental health, you can validate their feelings without necessarily supporting any negative thoughts. This can feel like a difficult balance to strike, but keep in mind that there’s a difference between acknowledging what your child is feeling and agreeing with them. You can let them know that you understand how they’re feeling without justifying any unhealthy thoughts or behaviors. Emphasize that they’re not alone, and express your understanding before shifting into any words of encouragement.
4. Let them know that it’s okay to not be okay.
Mental health is a big part of our overall health, and just as you’d go to the doctor for a broken arm or a sore throat, taking care of your mental health is equally as crucial for your overall well-being. You wouldn’t feel embarrassed for catching the flu, would you? So you shouldn’t feel embarrassed for admitting that you’re struggling with your mental health. It’s important to send this message to your kids, and assure them that they have your support every step of the way.
5. Leave the door open.
Your kids might not feel like talking right away, and that’s okay. Let them know that you’re there for them whenever they do want to talk and keep checking in.
6. Offer to connect them with professional care.
If your child is struggling with their mental health, you should talk to them about getting help from a mental health professional. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting help, even though it can sometimes feel intimidating or overwhelming to ask for it. Encourage your child to understand that talking to a therapist or a counselor will allow them to feel heard and help them develop coping skills to handle difficult thoughts and feelings. Point out all the positives, and talk through the decision with them.
For more information about talking to your kids about mental health topics like anxiety, depression, or suicide, check out maro parents.