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 preschooler. We’ll also share how to keep the conversation going with tips on speaking to your child in elementary school and into junior high and high school.

Preschool

It’s never too early to begin talking to your child about mental health. For your younger children, keep it simple and speak in terms and contexts that they will be able to understand. Preschool-age children are likely not just going to tell you how they feel, but they may express their feelings in a variety of ways. Look for their clues and engage them when you see them expressing different emotions. Use these clues as an opportunity for you to help them understand their feelings as they are first experiencing them and help them navigate their reactions to those emotions.

What to ask. And what to say to your preschooler.

  • What causes you to have butterflies in your stomach?
    • This feeling of anxiety or nervousness is an easy one for children to recognize as it manifests itself physically. Help them identify what causes these feelings and help them cope with it by facing their feelings head-on.
  • Where do your feelings come from?
    • Helping your children understand where their feelings come from, how and why they react to certain experiences and stimuli, can help them begin to work out what to do with those emotions.
  • Who can you talk to if your feelings get to be too much?
    • Let your children know that you are there for them always. But also teach them to establish trust with other key adults in their lives. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, mentors, close friends, and doctors and therapists should be recognized as trusted people that they can turn to discuss their feelings.
  • What are some ways you can calm down/relax/feel better/control your feelings?
    • However, you phrase it, making sure that your children understand basic coping techniques at an early age is important. It may be quiet time in their room, a certain song or playlist, drawing or coloring, or even snuggling with mom or dad. Once your children know they have a way to deal with their feelings, they are starting to build resilience.
  • Use media and daily experiences to normalize conversations about reacting to specific emotions.
    • After watching a movie, TV show, or YouTube video together discuss how the characters interacted with each other and dealt with their feelings.

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.