How to talk to your child about mental health

Just like your child’s physical health, it’s also important to keep an eye on their mental health. As a parent, we tend to our child’s needs. Whether that’s an unexplained rash, a high fever or a sore throat, we monitor our child’s physical health and take them to the doctor when we have concerns.

Sometimes parents view mental health a little differently. Due to the perceived stigma that comes along with it, the psychological behaviors of our children can be overlooked at times. This stigma can lead to a child’s reluctance to seek help or even acknowledge that they are struggling. But, together, we can help all our children be as physically and mentally strong as possible.

Talking about mental health with your child can feel daunting. As a member of your child’s team, we want to help prepare you for this conversation and offer helpful tips on monitoring your child’s mental health.

How much are children actually impacted by mental illness?

Mental health issues commonly emerge during the teenage years. That’s why it’s important to develop strong lines of communication with your child before then. Younger children can struggle emotionally as well, especially when eating disorders are involved. According to Eating Disorder Hope, eating disorders can develop in children as young as age 8.

 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

How to start the conversation about mental health

As you communicate back and forth, you want your child to feel open and comfortable about bringing up how they feel to you. Jean Paul Boudreau, professor of psychology and director of the CHILD lab at Ryerson University of Toronto, suggests in Today’s Parent trying to find a frame of reference that your child can relate to.

“They may know someone who is sick or feeling very sad,” Boudreau said. “Weave the narrative of mental illness into something they know or have witnessed.”

In addition, it’s important for your child to understand that you are listening to them without judgement. Emphasize in the first few conversations that there is no such thing as a stupid question.

Behaviors to look out for

The following warning signs may indicate a problem that needs professional attention:

  • Having more difficulty at school
  • Hitting or bullying other children
  • Attempting to injure himself
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Experiencing frequent mood swings
  • Experiencing intense emotions such as angry outbursts or extreme fear
  • Lacking energy or motivation
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having difficulty sleeping or having consistent nightmares
  • Experiencing a lot of physical complaints
  • Neglecting her appearance
  • Obsessed with weight, shape or appearance
  • Eating significantly more or less than usual

If you ever have concerns about changes in your child’s behavior, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a provider at Suburban Pediatrics. We’ll listen to both you, your child and other professionals as needed to ensure the right diagnosis. Then we’ll plan a path of success for your child together.

For more information

At Suburban Pediatrics, we’re here for you and your family every step of the way. Check out our additional website Resources and follow us on Facebook.