How To Talk To Your Kids About Mental Health

How To Talk To Your Kids About Mental Health

How To Talk To Your Kids About Mental Health

One of my favorite parts of my job is that I have the opportunity to speak to educators all over the country. Over the last two weeks, I have spoken to over 5,000 teachers, principals, assistant principals, counselors, and educational leaders, and one of their primary concerns as they head back to school is mental health, both for students and themselves.

Prior to the pandemic, one in 5 adults and children struggled with a mental health issue. That number is now one in 4. Whether you have kids or are around them, this is the perfect time to have conversations about mental health.

I heard a comment last week that really stuck with me.

We care for people the way we were cared for.

It is all of our jobs to create a safety zone where kids feel safe to talk about their feelings and emotions. If we were raised with patient, kind, empathetic parents and teachers, we are more likely to display those behaviors with others. If we were raised with judgment and shame, those behaviors arise as well.

Regardless of your background, education, or personal views on mental health, it is so important to have these conversations with kiddos (and pretty much everyone else).

When talking to your kids about mental health, here are 5 ways to create a safe space for a conversation:

1. Normalize conversations about emotions.

I have heard parents say things like, “Don’t come out of your room until you are happy or have a smile on your face.” This approach does not make space for kids to be honest about their feelings. The more we hold these feelings in, the more we internalize them. It is okay to not be okay.

2. Validate and acknowledge feelings.

Instead of trying to convince kids that they shouldn’t feel a certain way, validate their feelings. For example, you could say, “It sounds like you are feeling sad. It is okay to be sad’”. This helps kids learn to label their emotions, which is necessary for dealing with them in a healthy way.

3. Allow all emotions.

There is no such thing as a good or bad emotion, and when we try to suppress those feelings, they become more intense. Sadness, anxiety, fear, and other uncomfortable emotions play an important role in our development. Denying them is a fast track to significant behavioral and socio-emotional challenges. Allowing them builds emotional intelligence, empathy, and compassion.

4. Practice empathy.

We model the behaviors we see. If you are patient and understanding when kids are having a tough time, you end up with kids that are patient and understanding of others. No one wants to feel anxious, depressed, or scattered. Kids don’t know what to do with all of those big emotions. Instead of judgment, approach conversations with curiosity and empathy.

5. Encourage kids to ask for help.

Asking for help is a sign of courage and strength and should be encouraged. If you are a parent or teacher, let kids know who they can go to when they or someone they know needs help.

Most importantly, model these behaviors yourself. I know so many parents that don’t want their kids to see them cry, feel sad, or be upset. While you may think you are shielding your kids, you are actually telling them that it’s not okay to be sad, frustrated, or upset. Not only is it okay, it’s necessary. If they see you model healthy conversations and coping mechanisms, they will adopt them.

If you or someone you know is having a hard time, reach out to a therapist or get support from groups like NAMI. Normalize mental health conversations, model the behavior you want to see, and encourage kids (and adults) to talk about their feelings.

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Anne Grady is a Speaker, Author, and #TruthBomb Dropper.

Anne shares practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. And she’ll make you laugh while she does it. Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. She is the best selling author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work and Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience and Triumph.

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