According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in 10 children has a mental health problem, and 82% of head teachers have reported increasing occurrences of anxiety and panic attacks. Many more kids are growing up in homes where a family member has a mental illness.
Talking to them about mental health isn’t always easy, but it has to be done and we shouldn’t be saving these conversations for times of crisis. We all have a duty to talk to our children about mental health, so they can spot the signs in themselves and in others, and know where to turn for help.
So what can we do to support their mental health and promote a positive environment in which they can thrive?
In a world where emojis are replacing words and emotion are reduced to acronyms and abbreviations, it’s more important than ever to talk to your child. The conversation doesn’t
have to be about mental health. Just make them feel comfortable with talking to you so if something does start worrying them, they know who to turn to.
Cover the basics
At the simplest level, kids need to know that brains can get sick, just like bodies. It’s a basic explanation but children are capable of understanding this simple analogy without the need for greater detail.
Mental illness shouldn’t be a shameful secret, and hiding what’s happening can make them worry more, not less. If we want to rid future generations of the stigma that is attached to mental illness we need to be open and honest at all times
Charities such as YoungMinds and ChildLine have some great resources for tweens and teens. There are some great books for younger children, like Michael Rosen’s Sad Book and How Are You Feeling Today? by Molly Potter, which can help explain tricky concepts in child-friendly words.
Look after yourself
You are the ultimate role model for children. Parenting can be demanding and stressful and you need to look after your own mental health, as that will benefit your family. Think about how you show your own emotions of anger and distress in front of your kids, as they are likely to take a lot of behavioural cues from you.”
Teach them to look out for others
Half of all mental health problems are established before a child is 14, so kids have an important part to play in looking out for their friends. Encourage your children to tell you if they are worried about friends.
Tell them where to find help
It’s really important that children know where else they can turn for help, whether that’s a friend, a trusted teacher or a helpline such as ChildLine. And reassure them that you won’t be cross if they don’t talk to you, as long as they talk to someone.