How Mental Health Discourse Can Improve Family Dynamics

Guest Contribution by Juleigha Blankett

Whether it’s explaining current events, dealing with bullies, or even telling them Santa Claus isn’t real, every parent knows that they’re bound to have some tough conversations with their children. However, one subject that’s a little more difficult to prepare for is mental health — especially when it’s about your own experience.

Why You Should Talk to Your Child About Mental Health

You might be thinking that they’re too young to understand. Or, perhaps you are hoping to protect them from such a sensitive subject. Whatever it is, it’s common to think that it’s better to not engage in conversations about mental health with our children. In truth, however, keeping them in the dark can do more harm than good. Melissa Sturge-Apple, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester’s psychology department, points out that a cold and controlling family environment is detrimental to a child’s development. It can lead them to develop depression, feel alienated, and become aggressive and disruptive.

While mental health really isn’t the easiest topic to discuss, children must understand early on that mental health is a part of who we are. Although people are becoming more comfortable with this subject, Bustle highlights that only 43% of Americans feel comfortable talking about their own journey with others. Teaching your children that mental health is a normal part of the human experience can help prevent them from developing a stigma around it. Not only will they support those struggling with mental health when they’re older, but they’ll also navigate their own thoughts and emotions with more ease.

And as a parent with your own unique mental health journey, practicing open and honest communication is crucial for your relationship with your child. If they catch you on a bad day, for instance, they might feel disconnected from you or even think that it’s their fault. This is why Chris Adsit previously emphasized the importance of talking to them gently about what you’re experiencing, in order to foster a safe space in your home.

All in all, it’s your responsibility as a parent to engage in mental health discourse with your child. This valuable lesson will equip them with the tools they’ll need when they face inevitable obstacles in life. What’s more, it helps build a happier home, opening lines of communication and transparency in your family.

How to Start a Conversation About Mental Health with Your Child

All that being said, it’s vital to talk to children about mental health. But as with a lot of important things, it’s easier said than done — especially because no two peoples’ mental health situations are the same, and dynamics differ from family to family.

This is why it’s essential to remember that there’s no single correct way to go about it. Instead, what Angie Walston, a Certified Family Life Educator and a professor at Maryville University’s human development and family studies program, recommends is to approach parenting with 3 Cs: be compassionate, consistent, and calibrating. When it comes to conversations about mental health with your children, try placing yourself in their shoes to help you tailor it to their understanding. Also, you should keep the conversation going, so they can recognize that it’s a part of the human experience. Lastly, don’t forget to constantly observe how your child responds to see if they’re processing the information well and to adjust as necessary.

If talking to your child about this is quite challenging for you, you can start by referencing examples they can relate to. For example, you can share that just like the body, the brain experiences its own kind of pain and needs to sometimes heal, too. Also, be sure to speak to your child in a neutral or positive tone, as it shows them that mental health is a normal part of life. Plus, it can make this tough topic much easier for them to process, as Verywell Health notes that children listen and respond better to a gentle voice.

Mental health has always been a sensitive subject. And while there’s still a stigma around it, you can help raise a generation that’s more open to taking care of it. Through open and honest communication, your child can help create a future where everyone is seen and heard.

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