Discussions about mental health are difficult to navigate, and it can be even harder when you are talking to your child about how they are doing. However, we need to make sure we are starting this conversation with our children early enough and often enough so we can be aware of changes in their mental status, demeanor or motivations.
Our goal through this article is to help provide some ways that you can open this door and begin discussing these types of concerns with your child.
What we sometimes fail to remember as adults is that children do not have the years of experiences that we have. They do not understand that having a relationship end in a breakup does not mean that the heartache lasts forever. They have not yet been far enough away from their childhood years to realize that no one is going to look back and remember what they wore to school on a specific day.
To our children, these events are their whole world, because their whole world revolves around what experiences they have had, which is generally not expansive. Their experiences orbit around school, friends and family. Until they are out on their own, they are going to struggle with understanding that something is not the end of the world, because to them it is going to feel like it.
We must be patient with our children, help guide them through what they are feeling and encourage them to be open and honest with us about how they are doing.
Children are also very impressionable, so the more that we incorporate Emotional Intelligence (self-awareness) and a sense of internal understanding at a younger age, the easier it is going to be for them to utilize this skill as an adult. If we encourage our children to feel their emotions, understand them, and accept them, they will be able to better realize how they are feeling and acting in their later years.
So, what can you do right now to help your child with their mental health?
The Right Balance
Make sure that your child is eating right, staying hydrated and sleeping well. Our bodies are not designed to run well when a large portion of our diet is processed ingredients, so try to have them eat more whole foods (food free of additives or excessive processing) and ensure they get at least eight hours of sleep per night. This helps to keep their internal organs running in tip-top shape, which can decrease stressors to their mental health.
Honesty is the best policy
Be honest with your child. There is no shame in admitting that you have gone through something similar to what they are going through. By relating your life stories to what your child is going through, you are also deepening the bond between you by highlighting your shared experiences.
You are living, breathing proof that what has happened is not the end of the road for them. They will be able to persevere through this and move on. You may also even have tips to help them handle these types of situations in the future!
Keep your judgements at bay
To go hand-in-hand with honesty is holding back your judgements. It can take a lot for your child to feel comfortable enough with you to talk about topics that are concerning or worrisome for them. They have to push past a fear of judgement, and if you react emotionally instead of logically towards their words, they may not be as willing to open up to you in the future. Take deep breaths, think objectively, and thank your child for feeling comfortable enough to discuss this with you.
See how they are doing
Check in with them, frequently. Even if your child seems to be doing well, make sure to check in on how they are doing often. This will give them an opportunity to speak up if there is something going on in their life they need to talk about, as well as show your child that you are there for them.
Know that it is okay to seek outside help
Do not be afraid to bring your child to see a counselor. Counseling is a useful tool, and mental health is not something we have to conceal behind closed doors any longer. If you worry that your child may be struggling with depression, anxiety, or anything else, do not trivialize it, and set up an appointment with a local counselor.
These are all great starting points of ways to start the discussion about mental health with your child. If your child has questions, encourage them. If you do not know the answers, do some research and come back to it at a later time when you can feel more confident in your answer.
You do not need to expose your child to all of the worries of the world, but by sharing your experiences and encouraging communication, you are showing your child that they are not alone, they will never be alone, and they will get through this.