Mental Health Awareness Month: Tips for talking with your kids about Mental Health
Written by: Lindsey Anuzis, MA, LCMHCA, NCC, RBT
May is Mental Health Awareness month. Mental Health is described as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stressors of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
Mental health impacts how we think, feel, and act. It impacts how we handle stress, relate to others, and our ability to make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life.
Mental health awareness month is an important reminder to be compassionate towards those around you, as you never know what another person may be dealing with. It is a reminder that normalizing the discussion around mental health helps to reduce the stigma.
Community awareness, as such produced by open conversation about a topic like mental health improves overall education on warning signs and local resources. Knowing the warning signs, and even general education on mental health can improve the chances for prevention, early intervention, and support for those in need.
No one is too young to start learning about mental health, or the impact it has on our daily functioning.. So, below are some tips on how to talk to your children about mental health.
Tips for talking about and supporting your kids mental health:
- Model your own effective expression of emotions.
Kids learn from those around them, so, why not teach them how to effectively discuss their feelings? It may also be helpful to use age appropriate feeling words so your child can more easily relate to the experiences you are describing.
- If you experience challenges, talk about them!
Normalize talking about challenges so your children not only learn that it’s ok to not be perfect, but they will also have the opportunity to watch how you navigate these challenges as well! This can inadvertently teach your kids resilience. Again, just make sure the topic is age appropriate for your child, and that you talk about it in terms your child will understand. For example, if you do yoga or go for a walk for stress management, talk about it! This can also help your kids in developing their own coping skills.
- Ask open questions to inquire about your kids experiences.
Anyone with a kid has likely experienced the scenario when you ask the question “how was your day at school” and you get the short, non-descriptive response of “it was fine”. Frustrating, right? Well, directed or even just open questions in general can improve conversation and engagement. For example, “tell me about something that made you smile today” or, “what was your favorite part of today” or ” what was difficult for you today” are all similar questions to the “how was your day” but imply a more detailed response.
- Be fully present, and avoid distractions!
These check-ins and discussions require your full attention. Not only will avoiding distractions show your kids you are interested but it will also ensure you can pick up on important details.
- If your kid doesn’t want to talk to you about their feelings, find someone they will talk to!
Parents, it is a natural desire to want to be there and support your children. However, sometimes your kids may not feel as comfortable opening up to you about specific topics, perhaps they are embarrassed, or maybe even ashamed or disappointed in behaviors or thoughts they have experienced and don’t want to let you down. This is even more of a reason why kids should talk about it, but it is important to respect and not force kids to talk if they are uncomfortable. Just ensure that they have someone they can talk to, whether a licensed mental health therapist, a teacher or coach, or simply another family member.
- Never invalidate, or dismiss their emotions
For kids, sometimes they experience really intense emotions. They may believe something is a really big deal, where as we as adults may write it off as a blip, think negative feedback or constructive criticism from a coach, or an argument with a friend. Regardless, its important to validate your child’s experiences so they know that it is okay, and feel comfortable disclosing information in the future as well.
- Know the signs of when to seek out additional support
If your child started to engage in behaviors, or report symptoms that are not typical for them, take note. Often times, mental health concerns can manifest as physiological symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or pains. They can look like increased irritability, restlessness, moodiness, or fatigue, as well as acting out, or a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities among other things. If you ever have concerns about your child’s mental health, reach out to a licensed mental health therapist for support.
The more we discuss mental health, the more comfortable everyone will be about the topic. So, get talking, and help break the stigma around mental health!