Let’s talk about Children’s Mental Health

Majority of 21st century Parents today were conditioned to view mental health as a problem. They were taught to appear and act tough in crisis and were made to believe that vulnerability is a weakness and not a normal state of mind. 

The communication gap between parents and children widens when parents refuse to work on such preconceived notions and biases. Children may not feel comfortable sharing their issues with their parents. They might hesitate before they ask for help. There are many resources around mental health awareness these days, but most of these speak the language of the youth. This can make it difficult for parents to be sensitive towards the range of issues their child might be going through.

Why is talking about mental health important?

Talking to kids about mental health can be tough without the right information and tools. Some parents tend to put it off indefinitely with the fear that their innocent young children will be exposed to scary terms like depression.

However, the lack of awareness can make it worse for them to understand their struggles and make it difficult to empathize with others. According to WHO reports, one in seven adolescents experiences a mental disorder. It’s important to learn how to talk about mental health with them. This will help bust myths and break the stigma. Having the right kind of conversation with kids opens up lines of communication. 

When talking about mental health, it helps if parents are knowledgeable and comfortable with the subject. Having a basic understanding of the what, why, when of the subject comes in handy. 

Yuvaa- The conversation starter

During the pandemic, many students graduated with uncertainty and fear. The global health crisis has put a toll on their mental health. Have a look at Asmita and Priyanshu’s journey-

Therapy is a stigma in India even at this age and time. It can even be expensive for many people. 

Yuvaa, a youth media company came up with its very own therapy project. In association with its mental health partner, InnerHour, Yuvaa started providing free therapy sessions to the students of batch 2020.

Yuvaa collaborated with Instagram for its campaign #SunoSamjhoSaathDo. This campaign helped start conversations about mental health through inspiring stories.

How to start the mental health conversation 

Whenever the topic of mental illness comes up, the very first solution to pop up is communication. Parents need to toss the taboo and begin having healthy conversations. 

In this regard, social media is not all bad. Many influencers are putting out the right information in a fun way. One such voice of change is Divija Bhasin. Divija is a psychologist using Instagram to spread awareness around mental health.

What you can do as a parent is to ensure that you have a regular open dialogue with your child without overwhelming them. There are also ways to ensure there’s awareness coming through easy and fun ways. Let’s look at a few:

  • Take out time to talk about it

Talking about mental health will encourage your child to open up. Talk about your feelings to ensure that they feel comfortable. You can start the conversation with an interesting bit from your day. Conversation starters from everyday life can help you keep a check on your child’s mental health. Telling them about your day can help them open up. 

  • Use storytelling and animation

Storytelling helps connect with people and improve mental well-being. It makes a person feel less alone.Talking about a movie character with a mental health issue can be a good starting point. One such example is Ariel: The Little Mermaid who suffers from disposophobia – an anxiety disorder when people hoard stuff.

Source: Pinterest

How can we forget Sleeping Beauty? She suffers from hypersomnia – which means to sleep excessively.

  • Help your child identify their feelings

Parents can sit with their children and help them identify their feelings. For very little kids, using an emoji chart can be useful. As they cannot be completely verbal, they can just point to the emojis that describe their feelings at the moment. Simply talking to your teenage child will help them gain insight into their feelings.

Once they have identified the feeling, the next step is to decide how to manage such difficult emotions. There are no standard solutions as such but creative expression activities like journaling, spending time in nature, and physical activities can help.  Research by James Pennebaker suggests that writing out emotions helps people feel better.

  • Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions help avoid plain responses like ‘Cool’, ‘Fine’. It’s always better when the questions are more specific. Ask questions like, “What did you like the most about today?,” “What do you want me to know about your day?” “Do you know what’s making you feel upset?”

  • Help your child build connections

Your child might not always be comfortable telling you everything about its feelings. Work with your child and help it identify trusted adults. It can be anyone from a teacher to another family member.

Always make sure that you ask your child if they are comfortable sharing it with you or would they prefer someone else.

  • Tailor information according to their age

Preschool-age children – Young children have limited understanding ability. Keep them away from heavy statistics. Using physical health analogies like how they would feel if they break a leg can be helpful. There are engaging stories addressing mental health created especially for kids.

School-age children – Older children usually want specific information. Answering their concerns in a straightforward manner is the best way to go about the discussion revolving around mental health. They can also be inspired by the real struggles of well-known people.

Teenagers – Teenagers will naturally ask more detailed questions. Do not make the conversation sound like a lecture. An open dialogue with them will help fight stigma.

  • Do not rush into problem-solving 

Jumping right into the advice mode and trying to fix your child’s problem will not allow the conversation to flow. Children might feel that they are not being heard.

Listen to your child’s problem, validate the feelings and work together to arrive at a solution. 

  • Get help if there are warning signs

If you recognize a change in your child’s behavior, there might be something more to it, Monitor your child for signs and symptoms.

Seek help from trusted sources. Talking to the school counselor can be the very first step in the right direction.

As a parent, you will be providing your child with the right guidance and support by starting that much-needed mental health conversation. This in turn will lead to greater understanding and compassion on the part of your child.