Age is just a number when it comes to mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression and anxiety in kids has been at a steady increase over the past couple of decades. Here in the U.S., one in six children aged two to eight has been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
Opening up the conversation around mental wellness helps kids learn earlier rather than later that they should be prioritizing their mental needs. It also helps them differentiate between what’s normal and what’s not, and can be instrumental in giving them the confidence to seek help if and when it’s needed.
Parents must do their part to ensure that younger generations have the tools and resources—and the words—to put their mental health into perspective. That’s where taking action can help, and it’s easier than you might think.
Teaching kids about mental health isn’t a one-and-done endeavor. Instead, it’s a door that you open up and keep open, allowing kids to ask questions and seek support over time. Here are some ways to do it.
- Talk about it
Mental health should never be taboo to talk about. Use kid-friendly resources such as those offered through the National Federation of Families to introduce the general topic of mental health to children and to hone in on the more specific topics that might be most relevant to your child’s life.
- Discuss emotions
Let your kids know that feeling and talking about emotions is normal and okay—and that adults do it, too! Then model that sort of openness in your day to day life, both by checking in with your kids about the emotions that they might be feeling and by communicating emotions that you’re feeling. The more you talk about them, the more likely they’ll be to share their emotions on their own and without prompting.
- Create a safe space
Let your kids know that you’re a judgment-free listener when it comes to talking about mental health, then practice what you preach. Children should be aware that the adults they trust are always available to them for discussions about their mental well-being, and should be met with calm words and validation—instead of probing and/or judgmental questions—when they do open up.
- Introduce positive technique for managing mental health
Aside from letting your child know that no one feels their best all of the time, it’s also useful to teach them about various outlets and mindfulness techniques that they can use to protect their mental well-being. These include journaling, kid-friendly meditation exercises, and movement, such as walking, playing and yoga. Be sure to mention too that these are tools but not cures, and that if they feel they need more help, they can always come to you.
Talking about mental health matters. And, the sooner an individual can learn to recognize and prioritize their mental needs, the better off they’ll be.
If more support is needed, we invite you to learn more about the work that we do at Retreat Family and how we can help both children and families talk about—and find help for—mental health concerns. As always, you can also feel free to contact us for one-on-one support.