How To Talk To Your Kids About Mental Health

1 in 5 children lives with a serious, diagnosable mental illness. 1 in 5. Think about your child’s friends, their class, their school. That’s a lot of kids. It’s never been more important to be able to speak openly and honestly about mental health with your children. Fortunately, today’s parents are more open to discussing these important issues that previous generations.

So, you’re open to discussing mental health with your child, but how do you do it? Where do you start? As with most essential topics, start at the beginning. Talk with your children about their feelings, focus on their strengths, and most importantly listen to what they have to say.

Here are some tips from our parenting experts to get the conversation started with your child in elementary school. We also shared how to talk to your preschooler and we’ll help you keep the conversation going with tips on speaking to your child into junior high and high school.

Elementary School

By the time your child is in elementary school, their personalities are well established, they’ve probably made some strong friendships and they are full of emotions. Often, these emotions will come as unexpected outbursts that may catch you off guard! That’s OK. They are learning to express their feelings, and you can be there to guide them. Linking their feelings and how they express them to their strengths is key at this age to identify and build their unique strengths and build resiliency.

What to say to your kids when they are in elementary school.

  • Make a feelings thermometer
    • Kids at this age can understand things when they are presented to them visually. Giving them a way to express and understand how they are feeling visually can help them start to manage those emotions.
  • Have your child interview others about their feelings and how they cope.
    • Hopefully, while your child was younger, you helped them identify key adults (including yourself!) that they can talk to about their feelings. An interview with one of these trusted persons can help your child see that everyone deals with changing emotions and can give them insight into how others cope.
  • Ask your child, “Is it okay to feel; sad, embarrassed, guilty, shame, happy, joy, lonely, anger?”
    • Normalize their feelings. No matter what they are. Forget the notion that boys don’t cry and eliminate the concept of shame from your daughter’s vocabulary. All emotions are valid, and your child is going to feel ALL of the feels. Sometimes in the same day! Make sure they understand it is OK to not be OK all the time. And remind them that you are there for them.
  • What does it feel like when you get nervous?
    • Those butterflies in their stomach aren’t going to go anywhere anytime soon. As they get older, they may encounter more things that cause them to be nervous. New teachers, new school, new friends, new team, homework. Managing their nervousness and making sure it doesn’t explode into full-blown panic is a skill that they can continue to develop their entire lives.
  • Who are three people are in can trust with your thoughts/ feelings?
    • As they get older, your children may feel more comfortable discussing things with their friends. That’s fine, but make sure those relationships stay healthy and make sure to keep yourself in the loop. Narrowing down a circle of trusted people ensures them that they always have someone to talk to you.

Talking with your children early, often, and continuously about their mental well-being is so essential. Share these tips with fellow parents and let us know which strategies worked best for your family.

Check out our complete guide to talking to your child about mental health at any age.

Learn more about discussing mental health with your preschooler.

Learn more about discussing mental health with your child in elementary school.

Learn more about discussing mental health with your teens and high schoolers.

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