How to Talk to Children About Anxiety and Depression

It is almost never too early to talk to children about mental health. About 1 in 12 children in the U.S. struggle with diagnosed anxiety and depression—not to mention the thousands, if not millions, who are undiagnosed.

A report published by the CDC found that the suicide rate among Americans 10-24 years old rose by 56 percent from 2007 to 2017. The rate rose after remaining stable for seven years, according to the CDC.

Mental health disorders in children can manifest in a variety of ways, including irritability, sleeplessness, jitteriness or physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches.

Here are five important things to keep in mind when talking to children about anxiety and depression.

  1. Validate their emotions. Express compassion for your child’s situation and emotions. Acknowledge that it is normal and natural for them to be feeling the way they are.
  2. Ask lots of questions. Don’t assume you know what your child is feeling or that you have all the answers. Ask questions based out of curiosity and not out of a desire to prove a point or justify your own position.
  3. Don’t make them wrong. Mental illness sometimes has a negative stigma. Don’t blame your child or make them feel wrong or bad for struggling with mental health.
  4. Respect their boundaries. It’s okay if your child doesn’t want to share everything with you. Forcing them to violate their personal boundaries or invading their privacy could damage the trust between the two of you.
  5. Don’t project your own feelings. Sometimes parents blur the line between their own emotions and their child’s. Differentiate your experience so that you don’t make assumptions that could harm your relationship with your child.