April 4, 2023

Tips and Strategies on How to Talk to Your Child About Mental Health

Parents would naturally want to protect their children from harm and keep track of their physical health and well-being. However, the conversation of mental health can be a bit of a struggle, as it can feel uncomfortable or even taboo. But as a parent, it’s a crucial conversation to have to support your children's emotional and psychological well-being, and not just their physical health or their future career.

Tips and strategies for talking to a child about mental health must be discussed with parents, and they should start this conversation especially in a safe and supportive way. Parents must know how to create a safe environment for discussion, communicate in age-appropriate ways, share your own experiences on mental health care, and teach their children that it’s normal to seek professional help.

Understanding Mental Health

By definition, mental health refers to someone’s overall emotional, psychological, and social well-being. A mentally healthy person means how they think, feel, and behave are non-destructive and non-excessive. Ranging from mild to severe, mental health concerns impact both children and adults.

Some of the more common mental health concerns in children include anxiety, depression, ADHD, and behavioural disorders. It should be normalized among children to seek help for mental health issues, just as they would for physical health issues. Talking about mental health openly and without stigma can help reduce shame and encourage children to seek help when they need it.

Why Your Child’s Mental Health Matters

A child’s mental health should be of utmost importance to a parent, as it lays the foundation for their overall well-being and future success. Their academic achievement, social relationships, and emotional development all mostly depend on how good their mental health is. In this light, children who experience mental health issues are more likely to struggle academically, exhibit behavioral problems, and have difficulties forming healthy relationships.  

It’s important to note that untreated mental health challenges during childhood can persist into adulthood, affecting any person’s ability to lead a fulfilling and productive life. As parents, you have a responsibility to recognize the signs of poor mental health among your children and provide appropriate support and intervention. By prioritizing your children's mental health, you set them up for a good future where they can reach their potential and live their lives to the fullest.

Creating a Safe Environment for Discussion

Some parents aren’t very open or even dismissive when it comes to mental health. Remember that when talking to your child about mental health, it’s important that you create a safe and comfortable environment for discussion. Here are some tips for creating this environment:

  • You must choose a quiet and private location: Parents are advised to find a space where they can talk to their children without interruptions or distractions.
  • You must set aside dedicated time: Parents should make sure they have enough time to have a conversation without feeling rushed or pressured.
  • You must practice active listening: When the child is speaking, parents must give them their full attention. This means avoiding distractions such as using the phone or the TV.
  • You must avoid judgment: Parents must encourage the child to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. Avoid phrases like "You shouldn't feel that way" or "That's not a big deal."
  • You must be supportive: Parents should let their child know that they are there to support their child and help their child find resources if needed.

Age-Appropriate Communication

Sometimes, communicating about mental health with children of different ages can be challenging and even confusing, but here are some guidelines for discussing mental health with children of different ages:

Young Children (ages 0-5)

  • Make use of simple language to describe emotions and feelings
  • Encourage your child to talk about their feelings
  • Utilize books or stories to help explain emotions

Elementary School Children (ages 6-12)

  • Talk about the differences between "good" and "bad" stress
  • Encourage your child to talk about their worries and fears
  • Teach your child relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or mindfulness

Teenagers (ages 13-18)

  • Openly discuss specific mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression
  • Encourage your teenager to seek help if they’re struggling
  • Discuss ways to cope with stress such as exercise, talking to friends, or journaling

Discussing Your Own Mental Health

Sharing your own experiences with mental health can help your child feel less alone and more comfortable talking about their own mental health. Here are some tips for sharing your story:

  • You must be honest: Share your experiences in a truthful and honest way. Don't minimize your struggles or exaggerate them.
  • You can share what helped you: Talk about what helped you cope with your mental health concerns such as therapy or medication.
  • You can address potential concerns: If you are worried about how your child will react, talk to them about your concerns before sharing your story.
Mental Health

Knowing When to Seek Help

Finally, it’s important to know when to seek professional help for your child's mental health. Here are some signs that your child may need professional help:

  • Persistent sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability or anger that seems out of proportion to the situation
  • Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities they once enjoyed
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

If you notice any of these signs, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. You can start by talking to your child's pediatrician, school counsellor, or family doctor. They can provide a referral to a mental health professional who specializes in working with children and adolescents.

There are also several resources available in Canada for parents seeking mental health support for their children. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) offers resources and information for parents on children's mental health. Kids Help Phone provides 24/7 confidential support and counselling for children and teenagers.

Mental Health Professionals for Children at Archways Centre for CBT

Another resource is Archways Centre for CBT, which provides evidence-based cognitive and behavioural therapy (CBT) across the lifespan. Archways Centre for CBT offers services for children and youth, including therapy for anxiety, depression, and behavioural concerns.  

Our team of experienced therapists utilizes evidence-based approaches to help children and youth develop coping skills and reduce symptoms of mental health concerns. If you're seeking support for your child's mental health, Archways Centre for CBT is a good first step.

Seeking help for mental health concerns is a sign of strength and can make a significant difference in your child's life. Let's start the conversation today and prioritize our children's mental health and contact us at (519) 472–6612.