How to Talk to Your Child About Mental Health
Understanding mental health can be challenging for kids, and talking about mental health with kids can be particularly challenging for parents. Many parents don’t know when or how to start this conversation. In addition, misinformation about mental health can cause anxiety and lead to stigma. Stigma is when someone views someone/something in a negative light because of negative stereotypes. Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs towards mental health are common, and may be something your child has already been exposed to. The following are tips on how to start and continue the conversation about mental health with your child.
Set the Scene
Discussions with children and adolescents are often best when done in a place where they feel safe and comfortable. Try to minimize outside distractions, such as phones or other technology. Giving the opportunity for this to be a conversation rather than a lecture will make it more likely that your child with share with you their thoughts and feelings.
Choose your words wisely
Be mindful of the tone that you use when discussing mental health. Communicate honestly but at a level that is appropriate for your child’s age and development. Being matter of fact and neutral when discussing mental health can help reduce stigma or feelings of fear related to sharing. It’s often helpful to compare mental health with physical health-everyone goes through periods where they get colds or sick with the flu, just like everyone experiences different emotions in our lives. The people around us are there to help us with whatever we may be experiencing.
Model positive sharing about emotions and challenges that you face. Children learn from those around them-if you are comfortable and open about sharing how you feel they will become more comfortable with sharing.
Even if you feel differently about your child’s struggles than they do, make sure to validate and normalize how they are feeling. When children feel dismissed or that their problems are written off as “not a big deal,” they are often less likely to confide in others. Also, try to resist the urge to “fix the problem” for your child. Giving advice too quickly often shuts down the conversation, especially when children just want to be heard.
Continue the Conversation
Remember that discussing mental health is not a one-time conversation. Be sure that you are checking in with your child regularly, even when it seems like “nothing is wrong.” Try to ask open ended questions-this helps open up a conversation and makes sharing more natural. Give children the opportunity to ask questions, and pay attention to their reactions to what you share or the questions you ask. The more mental health is part of regular conversation, the more likely your child will feel comfortable sharing about their emotions and experiences with you.
You Don’t Have to Have All the Answers
You don’t need to know all the answers or be an expert to talk to your child about mental health. Be sure to look for the signs and symptoms that your child may need more support.
For more information about how to have a conversation with your child about mental health, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page, which includes answers to commonly asked questions about mental health symptoms, treatments and support.