It can be difficult to know how to approach the topic of mental health with children, especially if someone in your family is suffering. While it’s a complex concept that children are unlikely to be able to grasp fully, they are often more perceptive than we realize. Children can tell when an adult is behaving differently and, if they are left to come to their own conclusions, they are likely to be confused and may even blame themselves. Starting an open and honest conversation about mental health, in general, can help them to understand which can ease their anxieties. Here are some ideas to help you start a conversation about mental health with your children.
Do as much research as you can
You should do research about the mental health condition in question to ensure that you can talk about it with confidence and answer their questions. It’s best to present mental illness as a part of life which is no one’s fault and nothing to be ashamed of as this may help to remove the stigma around mental health at a young age so they know they can come to you should they have similar issues in the future.
Adjust the information for their age and ability
You should adjust the conversation to the age of your child and to their developmental stage. Use language and imagery that they can relate to. It may, for example, be useful to liken depression and anxiety to a physical illness as they may be able to understand how feeling bad can affect how someone behaves.
Older children may be able to cope with more detailed information such as the causes, symptoms, and potential treatments. Having open discussions about mental health, in general, may help teenagers who are struggling with their own mental health. You can make sure they know that you are there for them if they need to talk and what treatment might involve from medication, counseling or even residential treatment at the Ignite Teen Treatment Center.
Sometimes children who have parents with mental health issues can develop feelings of guilt, responsibility, resentment, or anger. It’s important that they are able to express those feelings and work through them or they may carry them into their adult life. Make sure they understand that the adult’s illness is no one’s fault and that it’s ok to talk about feeling sad or angry. Tell them how you feel and encourage them to do the same. When you know how they feel you can help them to express their feelings in healthy ways.
Help them to find coping mechanisms
Your children need to have a stable routine as much as possible, which can be difficult if someone in the home is dealing with mental health issues. It may help children to have a list of steps they should take if they are particularly worried about someone including phone numbers they can call. Try to find an appropriate adult who they would feel comfortable talking to if they reluctant to confide in you. They may also need to have responses ready should they be asked about their family member’s condition by other children or adults.