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Talking About Mental Health With Your Children: A How-To Guide

Around 70% of adults with mental health issues first experienced symptoms before they turned 18. Unfortunately, less than 20% of Canada’s youth suffering from mental illness receive treatment.

Talking about mental health is something you can do to equip your children with the knowledge they need to dissect complicated feelings; no matter if they are struggling or not. Here are safe and supportive ways to do it.

Start by Asking The Right Questions

Acknowledge Their Feelings

Feeling misunderstood and dismissed are common barriers people experience when seeking mental health services. This is especially true for children.

As adults, it can be easy to dismiss children’s concerns as we may find them petty at times, maybe even unrelatable. However, listening closely can help uncover issues they might have trouble communicating and help us understand them better.

Acknowledging these feelings promotes mutual learning, and can help stop problems that are not visible or obvious, such as the possibility of sexual abuse, domestic or peer violence, discrimination, or chronic disorders.

Ignoring recurring issues or potential trauma can negatively affect their behaviour, worsen their condition, and make them feel helpless. Starting the conversation will empower them to say what they need.

A male parent laughing with his son.

Give Examples

When it comes to how to properly behave, children learn mostly by example, and they tend to copy adults.

Showing people with mental health disorders kindness when you see them is a good way of teaching children positive attitudes. Reading children’s books about mental health is also great in helping them remember and understand complex concepts, recognize their own struggles, and learn actionable coping strategies.

Likewise, talking to them about your problems and how you managed them can help teach them it is normal to struggle. This can help ease their anxiety about making errors, displeasing you or their peers, or public embarrassment. It will encourage them to try healthy, productive, and fun activities instead of being fearful of failure.

By establishing positive attitudes early, you reduce the risk of them relying on harmful substances or habits down the line.

Be Honest

Honesty is the best policy. Normalizing bad behaviour in order not to offend people with mental health disorders teaches children that it is acceptable to behave badly.

Instead, you explain to them why people with mental health disorders may behave the way that they do, what you can and can’t do to help them, and what they should do when they encounter similar situations.

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer to a question. It is better to be transparent than fall back on authoritarian tropes like “because I said so,” or “enough.” Remember: your children should trust you as their parent, not fear you.

Time It Right

When talking to your children about mental health, choose a time and place that is conducive to learning. Forcing them to talk to you when they have assignments to finish or in the morning when both of you are rushing off to school or work can make them dread the conversation rather than find it interesting.

According to research, fun, curiosity, and engagement reinforces learning among children. Take advantage of situations where you can inform them about mental health, such as when mental health topics are mentioned on TV.

Why Is Talking About Mental Health Important?

Forms Healthy Habits

Childhood habits can shape a person’s personality and future. Talking about mental health helps a child develop healthy habits early in life and prevent unnecessary and dangerous mistakes such as relying on drugs to keep up with peers. Healthy habits can also enhance their opportunities for success, happiness, and overall wellness.

Prevention and Intervention of Psychiatric Disorders

According to research, half of mental health disorders globally start by the age of 14, with signs of psychological disturbances manifesting earlier. These disturbances have the potential to turn into major mental health disorders.

Don’t miss the early window for intervention. Guiding your children about their mental health can help you recognize warning signs and devise ways to prevent them from developing psychiatric disorders and their associated cognitive and physical impairments.

a mother and daughter talk over art therapy

Fortifies Your Bond

Talking about mental health means spending time together. This can help strengthen your bond with your children as you become one of their main resources for information and probably their most-trusted confidant.

Having these interactions with your children will help them feel safer. It will help reduce the chance they might resort to consulting predators for friendship, advice, or assistance as often is the case with estranged or unsupervised children.

Teaches Empathy

Teaching children about mental health and mental health disorders can help them become more compassionate toward their peers. Whether or not that kindness is returned, people who suffer from mental health disorders or simple difficulties will appreciate their gesture.

Empathy also teaches your children to be kinder to themselves. This helps them process their emotions more openly and effectively, speak when they are hurt, and choose relationships that are mutually nurturing rather than abusive.

Helps Other People

Children who understand the importance of mental health will be able to help their peers who don’t get adequate support from their families or teachers.

For example, victims of bullying might withdraw from social interaction and stay silent about the attacks due to threats. Children educated on mental health will be able to recognize that this is wrong and ask for help on their behalf. This can help reduce incidences of violence and self-harm and discourage future bullying and other untoward behaviours.

Who You Can Talk to About Mental Health

When it comes to talking about mental health, your children have you. You might be wondering who to talk to about mental health as a parent, or where can you turn for answers about mental health in children.

Aside from our regularly-updated blog, you can find more information about children’s mental health on the following sites:

For details about Freedom From Addiction’s addiction treatment and mental health services, call our hotline now.

Our in-house treatment consultants are ready to take your call 24/7.


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