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Talking to Your Kids About Mental Health


Article by Hayley Hyer

Photography by Parent Toolkit

Even when you have a close, trusting relationship with your children, it can be hard to bring up certain serious topics. Mental health is one that still has a heavy stigma, so it can be daunting to try to talk about in a positive way. What words should you use? Which phrases should you avoid? Even though it's tough, it's important to communicate to your kids that you are someone they can go to for those difficult topics. You want them to know you are a resource for them and that they will never be in trouble or shamed for how they are feeling. Parent Toolkit provides some great advice in Tough Talks: How to Talk to Your Child About Mental Health.

Mental health is one of those topics that is so broad and so complicated that many parents don’t know where to start when talking to kids. Some parents have family histories and therefore a reference point and example to draw upon when talking, while others must rely on news reports of tragedies. We spoke with a panel of our experts to get their advice on how to talk to kids about mental health, and how to know when to have those discussions. We’ve compiled their advice as part of our ongoing series on tough talks — making difficult conversations a bit easier.

With the transition to and through adolescence, many teens appear more moody and emotional. How are parents to know when a moody teenager has moved from simply being a moody teenager into an area that is cause for concern? Parenting expert and education psychologist Michele Borba tells parents “No one knows your child better than you. Trust your instincts. If you think something is wrong, you’re probably right.” She also recommends using a measurement she calls the “too index.”

It might be hard to start the discussion with your child but our experts overwhelmingly recommend speaking up sooner rather than later. One of the best strategies is to approach concerns about mental health as though it is equivalent to concerns about other health issues like diabetes or asthma. You may want to point out what you’re seeing and note your concern or worry. If you start the conversation with your concerns, your child may feel it is less of an attack and more a genuine care for their wellbeing.

READ MORE: Tough Talks: How to Talk to Your Child About Mental Health

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).