Every kid is different, but all kids need to know that their caregivers and homes are safe places for them to explore and express their mental health needs. Here are a few DOs and DON'Ts of creating a safe home to talk about mental health with your kids:
1. Talk about your own mental health in a way that is open and destigmatized, but with boundaries: This means using statements like, "I'm feeling a bit anxious today, so I'm going for a walk so that I can regulate my body because I know that helps me."
2. Ask wellness-specific questions based on age:
"How did your heart feel after that happened?"
"It's really common to feel upset after a friend says something like that, how did that make you feel?"
"Taking a test can feel really stressful, do you ever feel that stress in your body? Where do you feel it?"
3. If you notice examples of people you know or characters on TV showing difficult behaviors, use compassionate language to point it out:
"They sound like they are really struggling right now."
"It looks like they could use some support. If you felt like that, what do you think would be helpful to make you feel better?"
"That situation looks really hard, have you ever felt like that before?"
1. Don't use mental health terms as casual insults:
"She's so up and down all the time, it's like she's Bipolar or something!"
"He's a mess, he needs therapy."
"I'm so glad you're not like that."
2. Don't use terms like "lazy" or "useless" if you notice your kid is low-energy or avoiding a task. Instead, replace that with a more proactive term like:
"You seem tired, are you sleeping ok? What would give you the energy you need to complete this?"
"I've noticed you've had a hard time getting motivated lately, is something going on? Is there anything I can help with?"
3. Don't use your kid as your friend or sounding board to fix your mental health needs:
For example, saying "Sometimes I'm so depressed I don't even know what to do, and it feels like it's never going to get better." This can overburden your kid, and should be directed at a partner, friend or therapist.
Instead, model how to talk about it in a safe way while showing that you are doing what it takes to manage your own mental health, so that your kid knows you can still manage their needs and they do not need to take care of yours. For example, "I've been feeling a little down lately, so I decided to see a therapist, which has really been helping me because it's a safe place to talk about it. Now I know that even if I feel down, I can still have perspective and do important things like getting to be your parent."
If you want to create a safer space to talk about mental health with your kids but aren't sure where to start, schedule a free 15-minute consult with me to see if I can support you and your family's needs.