Updated: Oct 4
When kids experience physical discomfort, whether it's a stomach ache, a headache, or a common cold, they don't hesitate to share their sufferings with parents, who respond with care, offering reassurance and solutions. However, when it comes to topics such as stress, anxiety, or depression, starting a conversation becomes more complex for many reasons. These include the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding the subject, fear of judgment, a lack of vocabulary, and cultural factors. This article will explore strategies to overcome these challenges and create an open dialogue with our kids about their mental well-being.
Choose the right time and place
Bringing up mental health topics requires a safe and comfortable environment. Pick a time when your child is relaxed and not distracted by other activities. Privacy is key to ensuring that your child feels secure opening up about their thoughts and emotions without the fear of judgment.
Use open questions
When encouraging conversation, it is worth considering using open-ended questions rather than closed-ended ones. The latter can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no" and may hinder further discussion. For instance, instead of asking a child, "Are you okay?" try alternatives such as, "Can you tell me how you're feeling today?" This type of question prompts children to express themselves more deeply and openly.
Practice active listening and validate feelings
When your children open up about their feelings, listen attentively. Show empathy by validating their emotions without judgment. Reassure them that experiencing such emotions is perfectly normal and that you're there to support them. For example, you may say, "I understand that you're feeling sad, and it's okay to feel sad sometimes."
Create an atmosphere where honesty is valued and rewarded. Let your child know they can come to you with any worries or emotions, no matter how big or small they appear. Foster an environment where they feel comfortable being truthful about their experiences and feelings.
Adapt your language to the child's age
When discussing mental health with children, try to use terms suitable for their age group. Younger children might respond better to simple explanations, while older children can handle more complex discussions. There are books, media, and other materials customized to specific age categories that address emotional and mental wellness topics (you can explore some book options here).
Consider seeking professional help
During your conversations, It is worth emphasizing that while you are there to support your children, there are professionals, like therapists and counselors, who are experts in helping people with mental health challenges. Let your child know that seeking professional help is a courageous and important step if needed.
To conclude, fostering open and transparent discussions about mental health is an ongoing process, and everyone has their unique pace and willingness when it comes to sharing their feelings. Be flexible and patient, allowing the necessary time for this process according to the circumstances. As you gradually break the silence and remove the stigma surrounding mental health, you empower your children to face life's challenges with confidence and resilience.
How to Talk With Your Kids About Mental Health Concerns, article by David Susman, Ph.D. at Psychology Today
Talking to Your Child or Teen About Mental Health, a discussion guide by Boys & Girls Club of America
How to talk to your child about mental health, article at YoungMinds.org