How To Talk To Your Children About Mental Health

It’s estimated that 10% of young people aged 5 to 16 have a diagnosed mental health condition. But this doesn’t account for the thousands of children who remain undiagnosed. Diagnosis isn’t an easy route. Some signs of mental illness being mistaken for ‘normal’ childhood behaviour and some children’s concerns going ignored.

How To Talk To Your Children About Mental Health

A recent study revealed that 1 in 4 adolescents aged 14 to 17 had self-harmed, with rates increasing each year. 

Children’s mental health needs to be taken as seriously as any other physical injury. By opening up a dialogue with younger people and giving them a safe space to talk about any problems they are having, we can help to ensure that fewer children feel alone and trapped. Below are some tips on how to talk to children about their mental health.

Approach it gently

Starting the conversation is the first step, but you need to be mindful of how you approach it. While mental health is a serious topic, you don’t want to make your child feel scared or worried.

Depending on their age and how they feel, you may need to use simple phrases or analogies to help them understand. You can begin by comparing a physical injury to a mental injury – this demonstrated that they are very similar. 

A child knows that if they were to sprain their arm, they would go to the doctors for a physical exam and get treatment for it. They need to know that there are treatment options if they are struggling with their mental health, too.

Let them know that you are always there to discuss their feelings and that you will do your best to help them. If a child knows that they don’t have to go through anything alone, this will prevent them from bottling things up and may encourage them to seek support early on.

Make them feel validated 

Too often we see children’s feelings being pushed aside and labelled as normal child complaints. If a child says they feel upset or frustrated, we often hear remarks like, “cheer up.” Using common phrases like that makes them feel like their feelings aren’t important, which can lead to them becoming withdrawn and isolated.

While you can’t fix all of their problems, you can still ask them to explain to you what’s wrong and see if you can do anything to help. Just simply being there and being sympathetic shows them that you truly care about their mental health. 

Teach them self-care

Self-care is so important for both adults and children to fit into their lives. It’s easy to forget that children need these moments of self-care, but when they are going through big changes, like moving house, going to secondary school or saying goodbye to a best friend, they need to be looking out for themselves more than ever.

Encouraging them to find time for their hobbies, get outdoors, and have some quiet time for themselves, will help them to feel more in-control. This can have a huge impact on their mental health, and this allows them to see that there are many ways that they can feel joy and happiness in everyday moments. 

Be honest

You may think that you are helping your child by telling white lies or holding back difficult information, but often, honesty is the best. Some children may feel like they are to blame for their mental health condition, and it’s important they that understand that no one is to blame.

It’s likely that you know someone, whether it’s a family member, a close friend or your partner, who has a mental health disorder. By letting your child know this it immediately makes them feel less alone, and they may be able to talk to this person for additional support. 

Talk about the difficult stuff

Not all conversations are going to be easy, which is something that you have to accept as a parent. It’s easy to assume that your child will always come to you first if they have a problem, but in many cases, they feel like they have to deal with it alone. Rates of self-harm and suicide are increasing every year, which is why it’s more important than ever that you check in on your child and ask them if they need any support.

If they open up about having urges to self-harm or suicidal ideation, you should discuss getting them professional support. Many young people will feel scared about getting help, but offering to go with them and being there whenever they need you, will make it a whole lot easier for them. 

Leave a Reply