woman and child

How to talk about mental health with our children

We have previously considered the importance of listening to and talking with our children, no matter what their age. We are informed daily as to how important this is.

At times, one can be made to feel inadequate as a parent if we are not regularly talking about mental health issues with our children. However, this can be very daunting, and I know from experience that parents can feel afraid to get it wrong!

This is perhaps why we are not grasping the concept of the issue. In fact, open lines of positive communication between parents and their children should be an intrinsic part of everyday parenting and feel natural. It should not be a box that needs to be ticked once a week, rather an ongoing subject of open dialogue that becomes a regular part of conversations between parents and their children.

All, of course, easier said than done! Most parents do not have a psychology degree and it can be very difficult to know where to or, indeed, how to start without making it seem false and stunted.

If you are unsure of how to open a conversation about your child’s mental health, there are several proven strategies that you can use initially to support and allow the opportunity for your child to talk in a more natural way.

A very important realisation to acknowledge is that both children and adults alike can find it so much easier to talk whilst engaged in an activity. Children especially find it both easier to talk and more comfortable when the focus is not solely on a conversation!

There are any number of activities that can be enjoyed together which allow for the opportunity for talk to take place, whilst at the same time engaged in something pleasurable.

  • Playing a board game together
  • Kicking a ball around
  • Any ball game like catch
  • Going for a walk together
  • Watching a TV series that both you and your child enjoy
  • Creating a meal together
  • Baking, building a Lego model or painting are also excellent activities.

As a parent, you will know which activity would best suit your child. Ultimately, any situation that allows you to engage together and permits conversation to take place without your child feeling pressured or stressed is a very good place to start.

If you are unsure how to broach the subject of a child’s mental health, especially if you are concerned that there may be an issue, there are some key proven conversation openers that you can consider using:

  • What did you do today that you are pleased about/proud of?
  • What was the best/worst part of your day?
  • How are you feeling today?
  • Were there any problems that you had today?
  • Is there anything that you need my help/support with?

We know our own children the best. If you think that there is something that is concerning your child and that they are not talking about, try to encourage them through simple statements like:

  • You know that I love you and nothing can change that.
  • I’m here for you if you do want to talk at any time.
  • We will get through this together.

If through talking, your child tells you that they are finding something difficult to cope with, and they are struggling mentally, it is important to continue talking to reassure them that what they are feeling is okay.

Do reassure them that you are there for them and that you will help and support them. Ask them if there is something that you as a parent can do that would help them and, crucially, devote time to reveal why they are feeling this way. Remind your child that feeling a certain way is normal and that it will change, and they can and will feel better about the situation.

If your child is really struggling, now is the time to seek professional help, which can be from your family doctor, therapist, or counsellor.

By initiating conversation on a regular basis, and taking the time to listen to your child, you have taken the first fundamental steps to support your child’s mental health.

‘A child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health and deserves the same quality of support’ – Catherine, Princess of Wales

By Penelope Best,
International Education Consultant