Chances are, your kids will encounter people who might have mental health struggles or even run into them themselves as they grow up. You must teach them people with these issues are not alone and model how they should treat people. No matter your child’s age, you can talk with them about mental health and why they should keep a check on theirs.
1. Sit Down for a Dialogue
The best way to teach your kid about the importance of mental health is by having an open, honest conversation with them about it. You might be able to have a deeper conversation with them about how they might see mental health struggles in their lives if they’re older. Deep conversations can teach children how to navigate complex emotions and handle conflict well. Talk with them about how some illnesses can’t be seen and they’ll learn to treat everyone with compassion.
2. Teach Them the Importance of Sleep
By teaching your kid how best to take care of their sleeping habits, they’ll get enough rest and a more positive outlook. Often, sleep difficulties can be linked to mental health struggles and having trouble sleeping might be one of the first symptoms of depression a person experiences. Watch out for signs of your child not sleeping well and talk to them if they bring up worries regarding their sleep habits.
3. Answer Questions Honestly
Your kid is bound to have questions about someone’s mental health, especially if they display symptoms. To the best of your ability, answer their questions without judgment as honestly as possible in an age-appropriate way.
No matter how deep you get into the answer, make sure you respond to your child in an empathetic way. Don’t treat someone as “less than” because of a mental health struggle, as your child will likely replicate your feelings.
4. Be Open With Your Emotions
One of the best ways to crush mental health stigma is to be honest with your kid about how you’re feeling. Don’t try to hide it from them when you’re having a bad day. Explain your emotions and why you feel the way you do. If you don’t have a reason for feeling upset, explain that, too. Your children should understand that emotions aren’t taboo to talk about and it’s okay to be upset sometimes without knowing why.
5. Help Them Understand Triggers
As they get older, your kids may encounter trigger warnings in the media. It’s your job to help them understand why these warnings are important and why some people need them. Trigger warnings exist as a courtesy to alert people ahead of time of the sensitive topics something depicts. They help people with negative emotions or flashbacks prepare themselves adequately or leave.
You might also explain to them what triggers do. Triggers are often related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and seeing something can “trigger” a painful memory or flashback. A good example is a war veteran hating the sound of fireworks. Triggers lead to distress for people who have PTSD and similar disorders, so your child should know how best to understand people who experience them.
6. Offer Support
You and your kid can offer support to someone with depression or another mental health issue. Sometimes, having someone nearby with a listening ear is enough to make a difference. Reaching out and demonstrating how to help others might teach your child empathy and how to handle a tricky situation regarding mental health. Always encourage them to offer a helping hand to people who need it.
7. Teach Them Self-Love
Many mental health struggles come from people not loving themselves and being unhappy with something regarding their appearance or personality. Stay away from talking badly about yourself in front of your kids. Affirm that they should love themselves how they are and shouldn’t feel the need to conform to any beauty standards. They should love themselves exactly as they are because no one else can be just like them.
8. Check In With Them
Make time for regular check-ins with your children. Take note of their feelings and learn whether anything has upset them recently. Try to help them tackle their problems to show them they’re not alone. When you make mental health check-ins a regular thing, your kid will understand they can come to you with their emotions and you won’t shame them for talking about something that upset them, no matter how small.
9. Help Them Learn Coping Skills
Sometimes, negative emotions strike when your kids are out and about. Your children might not always have you to talk them through their anxieties and worries, so you must discuss strategies to cope with their emotions.
Teach them breathing techniques to help calm them down if they start hyperventilating. These strategies can benefit them through their mental health journey, but they can also use them to help others through troubling times. Your kids can be a resource for their friends who need some immediate help to walk through a difficult episode.
10. Model Ideal Behavior
How parents interact with their children drastically affects how children grow up and learn about the world around them. That’s why you should do your best to model empathy in your actions when dealing with mental health struggles. They likely know the difficult side of mental illness, so approach any topics with compassion. Kids learn best by watching what you do.
Talk to Your Kids About Mental Health
People shouldn’t have to struggle with their mental health quietly. By approaching the topic with empathy and grace, you can show your children it’s okay to talk about how they’re feeling and seek out help. Once they understand that mental health struggles aren’t shameful, they can be more open with their loved ones about their feelings and learn to support people who might be having a difficult time. Raise your kids with empathy — they could be better human beings because of it.