A global pandemic. Worldwide civil unrest. Protracted school lockdowns and the challenges of remote learning. The omnipresence of social media. Let’s face it: Growing up today looks a lot different than it did just one or two generations ago.
Children, as well as their parents, are facing tremendous pressure. They’re coping with challenges that few of us have ever experienced or even anticipated.
It’s little wonder that rates of mental illness are skyrocketing for every age demographic. The good news, however, is that conversations surrounding mental health are becoming more prevalent and far less stigmatized than in the past. Indeed, parents, healthcare providers, and educators alike are increasingly recognizing the critical importance of talking to children about mental health.
Having frequent and frank conversations with your child about their mental wellbeing, in fact, may well be the first and most important step you can take not only in supporting their mental health but also in recognizing, and promptly intervening when challenges arise. This article provides strategies parents can use to open up a dialogue with their children on this critical and timely issue.
Prioritizing Mental Health
Parents spend so much time worrying about their children’s physical health that the issue of their mental well-being may easily fall by the wayside. It can be easy to take for granted, for instance, that your child is healthy and happy simply because you’ve noticed no visible signs of distress.
Indeed, this assumption may be one that your child holds as well, particularly if they have not yet learned how to monitor their own psychological wellness or identify signs of anxiety, depression, or other nascent concerns.
This is where the role of effective communication is paramount. Every day, in ways both large and small, parents teach their children the fundamentals of self-care, from eating a nutritious diet to keeping hydrated to getting adequate exercise and sufficient sleep.
However, it’s also important to teach your child to nurture their mental health as an attribute of overall wellness. For example, you might teach them the importance of stress management as a tool for remaining energized, focused, and motivated throughout the day, much as eating a healthy diet is.
Integrating mental health into a discussion of overall health practices enables your child not only to recognize the value of mental wellbeing but also the profound interconnectedness between the body, the mind, and the spirit. The ultimate goal is to help your child experience a home life and lifestyle that supports both their physical and mental health.
Addressing Mental Health Risks
Teaching your child self-care practices that include the prioritization of mental wellbeing, however, is only part of the battle. It’s also imperative that you teach your child to recognize the risk factors that they may face and how to address these risks meaningfully.
For instance, though parental divorce is an increasingly common event in the lives of most children, it can also be highly traumatic, particularly if children do not have the opportunity or ability to openly communicate their feelings.
When your child is experiencing an adverse event, such as a parental divorce, one of the best gifts you can give them is the freedom to express their feelings without fear of judgment or repercussions. This also provides children with the opportunity to learn to process their emotions and to seek the support of parents, relatives, or mental health professionals when their feelings become overwhelming or the distress they feel becomes intractable.
To be sure, divorce is far from the only trauma your child is likely to experience in the often painful process of growing up. Teenagers, perhaps not surprisingly, are especially vulnerable to a host of psychological stressors as they navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Unfortunately, because this is a developmental period in which your child is working to construct their own sense of identity independent of their parents, it can be particularly difficult to get your teen to open up to you. The good news is that it is still possible to cultivate good communication with your adolescent. It just takes a bit of extra effort and a good deal of patience, including the capacity to listen without judgment to their fears, anxieties, and frustrations–even when, as is inevitable, you are the source of that frustration!
Talking to your child about mental health is likely to be among the most difficult but also the most important conversations you will ever have. The good news is that conversations surrounding mental health are far easier today than they have been in previous generations, thanks to ongoing efforts to destigmatize mental illness and mental healthcare. The bad news, though, is that mental health challenges, ranging from depression to anxiety, are afflicting our children in greater numbers than perhaps ever before.
However, by maintaining an open and ongoing dialogue about the importance of nurturing one’s mental health, you can help your child create the healthy, happy, peaceful, and joyous life they deserve.
About the Author
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for social activism and the search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.