Teaching Children to Talk about Mental Health
Children may not be able to articulate all of their feelings, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help them deal with them. Emotions are usually learned from caregivers, so the best way to prepare your children for dealing with feelings is to name them from an early age, and help them learn how to articulate them. Helping children learn early on how to talk about mental health will set them up for success as they get older and encounter the world outside of the family unit.
Help them find the words
It’s no secret that our culture is in need of more open, honest conversation about mental health. From an early age, help your child learn what an emotion is and what it means. For example, if a young child is visibly cross, name that emotion for them: “I can see you are feeling angry, and that's ok; can we talk about it?" This will help normalise their feelings, teaching them how to talk about them in the future. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable—they’re exploring complex emotions and dealing with new life experiences like relationships, social pressure, school stress and body image issues. Reaching out to teenagers and talking about emotions and social pressures will help them feel safe at this uncertain time.
It’s important for children of all ages, including those who have no idea what a mental health issue is, to know that if they are feeling worried or sad, it is good to talk about it. Make sure your child knows that you are available to talk to them at any time, actively encouraging open conversations about mental health.
Model for them
As a parent, you know how hard it is to get your children to talk—or even want to talk—about serious topics. The best way for them to learn is by example, and making time to talk about your own experiences is a good starting point.
Help them set their own boundaries
Help your child recognise when they are starting to feel overwhelmed by tasks and responsibilities. There are so many pressures on children to perform, and it's a good idea to regularly check in with your child to make sure they are coping. Homework and friendship pressures are huge, and very real, problems for many children and teenagers.