How to Talk to Your Child About Mental Health
Having the conversation with kids about mental health with children isn't always an easy conversation to have. While important, starting the conversation about mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse can be overwhelming for some parents. Experts say that learning to have these conversations is the first step in helping you help your child.
Children, and specifically teens and tweens aren't always going to be the one to bring up the conversation for many different reasons. Some children may not understand that what they are going through is beyond normal stress, but rather a mental health disorder. Fear that parents won't believe them, and being labeled an "overly emotional teenager" is another reason that may prevent your child from opening up. It can be uncomfortable for many children to admit when something is wrong, especially when it comes to their mental health. They may fear that a parent will worry or "freak out", and take away privileges. Many of these reason are a result of the role that stigma plays regarding mental health. Children don't want to be labeled as "weird or crazy" or that they can't handle life's challenges.
When parents are the ones to start the conversation, it shows your child that the subject of mental health is always welcomed and encouraged. By planning ahead and learning about the different resources available, parents are able to broach the topic much more calmly and confidently.
Before talking to your child about mental health disorders, it is helpful to begin the conversation by talking about mental health in more general terms. Here are a couple of videos to help you start the conversation, depending on the age of your child.
Grades K-3: Talking Mental Health
Grades 4-6: We All Have Mental Health
Grades 6-8: Mental Health: The Basic
Here are a few additional resources to help parents start the conversation about mental health with their child:
Once you help your child understand that everyone has mental health, you can then begin to talk about different common mental health disorders. Kids are naturally curious and are already hearing about different mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Myths and misinformation about different mental health disorders can lead to anxiety, increased stereotypes, and stigma. Because 1 in 6 children are faced with a mental health disorder, it is important that children learn the facts, and understand that these disorders are treatable.
do your research ahead of time so that you are prepared to answer common questions
make sure to be genuine, especially when talking to teens (they can often see right through a parent who is "faking it"
communicate in a straightforward manner
communicate at a level that is appropriate to a child's age and development level
have the discussion when the child feels safe and comfortable (while doing chores, in the care, cooking dinner together, taking a walk together)
watch their child's reaction during the discussion
slow down or back up if the child becomes confused or looks upset
allow for silence
For more information on how to talk to your child about mental health disorders, check out the following links:
One way you can explain different mental health disorders to children is through books or videos. Here are a few suggested book links that explain common child mental health challenges and disorders in a developmentally appropriate way.
Here are a few videos that explains 7 common mental health disorders in children and adolescents. I encourage parents to view the videos ahead of time and then watch them with your child. This allows you to prepare for questions and to make sure the videos are developmentally appropriate. Most of these videos are most appropriate for older kids (5-8 grade)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Separation Anxiety Disorder (appropriate for young kids K-3 grade)
Social Anxiety Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
PostTraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Check out this helpful infographic!
I hope that this information is helpful as you begin to start (or continue) the conversation about mental health with your child.
If you have any questions and/or concerns about your child's mental health or how to talk to your child about mental health disorders, please do not hesitate to contact Leah Molloy, school counselor at L.Molloy@stbs.org