A Guide on How to Talk to Younger Children About Mental Health

mum and daughter talking about mental health

In a world that is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental health at all ages, it is important to extend the conversation to include our younger generation. Just like physical health, mental well-being is a key aspect of a child's overall development, and nurturing it now can set them up for a more open relationship with mental health throughout their life.  

We all know that children experience a wide range of emotions as they navigate the complexities of growing up. Anxiety, stress, and low moods are a part of life, but it's key for parents and caregivers to create a safe space for children to express themselves and seek support when needed. 

By normalising conversations around mental health, rather than downplaying them simply as ‘part of growing up’, we can empower children to understand their emotions better, develop coping mechanisms, and build strong foundations for their long-term happiness.

Advice On Starting The Conversation

Initiating a conversation about mental health with your child may seem daunting, but it is the first step towards fostering a healthy and open dialogue. Here are some practical tips inspired by charity YoungMinds:

  • Choose the Right Time and Setting: Find a quiet and comfortable environment where your child feels secure. Try to pick a moment when you both can talk without distractions or time constraints.
  • Be Open and Approachable: Start the conversation by expressing your willingness to talk about anything, including feelings and emotions. Use a calm and reassuring tone to make your child feel comfortable sharing any thoughts they have.
  • Use Age-Appropriate Language: Try to tailor your language to your child's age and understanding. Avoid using complicated terms and opt for simple, straightforward explanations that resonate with their experiences.
  • Share Your Feelings: Sometimes, sharing your own emotions or experiences can help your child feel more at ease and less alone. Be honest about how you handle stress or challenging emotions, emphasising that everyone faces difficulties.
  • Try Some Creative Methods: Younger children may find it easier to express themselves through play, drawing, or storytelling. Incorporate creative activities into your conversation to make it more engaging and accessible for them.
  • Validate Any Emotions They Have: Let your child know that any of their feelings are valid and normal. Avoid dismissing or downplaying their emotions, even if they seem trivial to you. This validation fosters a sense of security and openness.
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How to Ask Your Child About Their Mental Health

It might seem easy enough to open the conversation about mental health with your child, but if they don’t engage well, how can you continue the conversation to try and ask about their mental health? Here are some guidance points to help navigate this aspect of the conversation:

  • Use Open-Ended Questions: Instead of asking yes or no questions, use open-ended queries that encourage your child to share more about their feelings. For example, ask, "Can you tell me about your day?" or "How have you been feeling lately?"
  • Be Patient and Listen: Allow your child the time to properly formulate their thoughts and express them. Active listening means maintaining eye contact, nodding along, and responding with empathy to demonstrate that you value their perspective.
  • Watch for Non-Verbal Cues: Children may not always express themselves verbally. Pay attention to their body language, facial expressions, and any changes in behaviour.
  • Encourage Journaling or Art: Some children find it easier to express their emotions through writing or drawing. Encourage your child to keep a journal or create art as a means of self-expression, and let them know it's a safe space for their thoughts and feelings.
  • Seek Professional Help if Needed: If your child expresses persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or struggles to cope, consider seeking professional help. Mental health professionals, such as counsellors or child psychologists, can provide specialised support tailored to your child's needs.

Remember that every child is unique, so adapt these tips to suit your child's individual needs and developmental stage, and always seek professional help if your child is struggling. Head here for more on how to encourage your child's creativity

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