Mental Health issues are a complex topic for children to understand. It can be hard to know how to talk to children about parent’s mental illness. However, you must provide them with some understanding of the issue. Research shows that knowledge can help them cope. It can help them make sense of the changes they observe in you when you’re unwell and know that they’re not at fault or somehow responsible.
There are many ways to talk about mental health with your child. The most important thing is to be open and honest. You should also use age-appropriate language when explaining the issues you are suffering from. You can help your child cope with your diagnosis healthily by following these tips.
9 strategies on how to talk about parent’s mental illness
Acknowledge that Mental Health issues can be a difficult concept for young children to understand
Unlike physical illnesses, symptoms are not always obvious, visible or straightforward. Therefore, children may react differently to an adult who understands the concept better. How kids cope with the news of a parent who has mental illness depends on their age, how much knowledge they have about it, and the support they receive.
Safeguard yourself first
It might be beneficial to discuss this with your spouse (or another caring individual). If you don’t have a partner, talk about it with a family member, close friend, or mental health professional. Doing this with someone who knows you well is a fantastic idea since they may have seen your symptoms from a different perspective.
Share information in doses
Gauge what your child can handle by providing small bits of information at a time. You’ll know what further information to provide based on your child’s questions. There is no need to share too much detail about all the possible scenarios. This can put too much pressure on the child and raise unnecessary anxiety.
Research your mental health diagnosis
If your child asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, it is OK to say, “I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you when I find out more”. Take the time to research away from your child and give her a child-appropriate answer when you are ready.
Children respond well to stories. It helps them understand complicated concepts in a nonthreatening way. You can make up a story or read a book together about mental health.
Talk about emotions
Encourage kids to say what they’re thinking and feeling in the days, weeks, and months following the initial conversation. Then, talk about your feelings: It helps kids be aware of and comfortable with theirs.
Check your fears
While it is essential to talk about mental health, parents can feel uncomfortable because it may bring up their own anxiety. Kids often know when we are feeling anxious and will feel anxious too. Manage your anxiety about the topic before discussing it with your child.
Respond to emotions with comfort and reassurance
Notice if your child seems sad, worried, or upset in other ways. Ask about feelings and listen. Let your child know that it takes time to adapt to significant changes in the family. Some kids may temporarily have trouble concentrating or sleeping or have fears and worries. Reassure your child that her feelings are normal and accepted.
Keep the conversation line open
Make sure your child knows that they can always come to you with any questions or concerns.
Mental illness can be difficult to know how to talk to children about parent’s mental illness in a way they understand and sometimes they may feel like it is their fault. It’s important that you take the time to talk to them about your mental illness in a way that they will understand. You can use our free Mental Health Conversation Starters printable as a guide, which includes tips on how to start the conversation about mental health. We hope this helps make things a little bit easier for both you and your child.