Mental health is always a tricky conversation to have, no matter how old someone is. Children often experience mental health issues differently than adults. Their symptoms of disorders vary from adults, and since many cannot verbalize the issue its makes discussing them harder. It’s vital that parents and adults in a child’s life leave an open door to discussions around mental health though. Here are a few tips for talking about it.
There is no script for talking about mental health with kids. Every kid is different. Even developmental age isn’t a clear indicator for talking points. It’s important to understand the child’s temperament and their maturity level. This will help in determining how to approach the conversation. Try to use words and experiences they can relate to.
Be flexible about when or how the conversation happens. Some kids open up more while playing while other’s talk better during a sit-down one-to-one. The goal is to make the child comfortable to talk and ask questions. It also doesn’t have to be a big serious conversation. Sometimes just broaching the topic casually a few times lets them know it’s okay to discuss later when needed.
Kids are curious, so be prepared to answer questions when you talk about it. Make sure you’re well informed and if you don’t know the answer, be honest about that. Never lie to them as this could confuse them later on. If they’re old enough to read or write consider helping them research some of their questions or giving them material to read at their own time.
Children often want to help, so if you or someone in your family is struggling, be open to it. If the child is old enough give them clear tasks that can help such as chores around the home. This will help teach responsibility, allow the child to feel helpful, and relieve some pressure. Be sure not to put adult responsibilities on the child though.
Honesty is key when talking about mental health. You may not have an answer for every question your child asks, or may not think the answer is appropriate at the time. This is okay! It’s all right to say “I don’t know”. If you’re honest with your child, they’re more likely, to be honest with you.
Feel free to contact us if you, someone you love, or your child is struggling with mental health.