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How to Talk to Your Kids About Mental Health

Mental health and motherhood 

Being a parent is incredibly rewarding, but it’s also a hard job that can come with a lot of anxieties. Postpartum depression is considered to be a prevalent condition, with over three million annual cases presented in the United States alone. The baby blues, which is even more common, are present for up to 80% of moms. You might experience feelings of pressure to be “the perfect parent” and worry about if you’re doing the right thing for your kids to the point where the anxiety affects your life. Also, you could have a long-standing mental health condition such as Bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, or panic disorder and struggle with self-care or fear about if your condition will impact your kids, and if so, the ways it might affect them.

You might wonder if you should tell your kids about the disorder, and if so, when? Regardless if you have a mental illness or not, many parents have been conditioned to believe that they need to hide their feelings from their kids and may struggle to cope with their emotions as a result of this belief. 

Should you hide your emotions from kids? 

Mother daughter
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You don’t need to hide your emotions from children, and in fact, it can be helpful for you to open up. The key is to do it in a way that’s healthy and age-appropriate. Studies show that it’s more positive to open up about your feelings to children rather than pushing them down and that pushing down your feelings can negatively impact kids. Model healthy emotional release for your children and talk about the way that you are going to work through the emotions. Kids are very perceptive, and if you don’t tell them what’s going on by saying something like “I had a hard day and am a little bit sad/tired/overwhelmed/etc.,” chances are that they’ll feel it in the room. Preface it by expressing how you’re feeling and then tell them what you need. For example, “I had a stressful day at work and need to have some quiet time.”

Kids who model after their parents are more likely to connect open up. They also learn how to problem-solve and regulate feelings from this process. An additional benefit of talking about your emotions with your kids is that when your kids hear you talk about how you feel, it gives them the verbiage to talk about how they feel. They can say, “I feel sad” or “I feel nervous.” Then what the sensation they’re experiencing is, and as opposed to worrying that their feelings are abnormal or “wrong,” they’ll know that their feelings are perfectly normal and valid. Additionally, it’s essential to express your feelings. You can show that it’s okay for kids to talk about their mental health and creating an environment where they feel safe to do so. 

How to get your kids to open up about their mental health 

Mental health talk
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If your child has never expressed anything mental health-related to you, you can get a glimpse into how they’re feeling by asking questions about their day. It’s the best approach in many cases because you aren’t prying; you’re opening up a conversation and giving your kids the space to talk. You can also model the idea that mental health is okay to talk about, and you don’t need to be ashamed of your mental health. For example, a television story comes on about a person who lives with an eating disorder, Schizophrenia, Depression, or another mental health diagnosis. You can model compassion by commenting on the prevalence of these diagnoses and saying that the individual seems like a kind person. You hope they’re able to get to a better place because a lot of people do indeed get help and go on to live happy, healthy lives.

Alternatively, there may be a time where your child or teen expresses mental health concerns to you or shows very real symptoms of a mental health issue. If your child opens up to you about feelings of depression or anxiety, for example, be receptive and supportive. As hard as it is, remain calm. Listen, ask how you can help, and take the necessary actions to get them the appropriate level of mental health help. It is crucial to validate the way that your child feels, even if you don’t necessarily understand. There will be times when your kids don’t want to open up to you. That’s normal, and it’s okay to give them space. A child or teen counselor may be helpful in this situation so that even if they’re not talking to you, they’re talking to someone. 

Online counseling 

Online therapy is an excellent option for busy parents and professionals who don’t have a lot of time on their hands. Whether you work with someone online or in your local area, talking to a counselor can help. It can ease nervous feelings about being “the perfect parent,” learn to work through your feelings and get in touch with them or give you a place to open up about any other topic. Search the network of online therapists at BetterHelp and get started today.  

Featured Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash