7 Tips for Talking To Your Child About Mental Health

Mental Health has become an increasingly important topic—especially this year as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the nation and political division escalates, contributing to increased chaos, stress and uncertainty.

Experts are predicting that certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, may be exacerbated as a result of the current political, economic, and social climate.

Mental illness doesn’t just affect adults. 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.

In children, anxiety can look like irritability, sleeplessness, jitteriness or physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

If you suspect your child might be affected by anxiety, depression or another mental health condition, here are seven tips for talking to them about it.

  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.
  6. Offer support but don’t force it. You can’t make anyone change or accept your help. Let your child know that you are there to support them but don’t try to force solutions on them.
  7. Pay for professional support. Sometimes a professional, objective third party is necessary to help your child work through mental health issues. Offer to pay for a therapist, counselor or mentor for your child and don’t take it personally when your child wants to confide in someone other than you.