Having good mental health is a key part of overall wellbeing for children (and adults alike).
I’ve been talking to children about mental health at work this week. When I asked children what mental health was, most children referred to it as someone being ‘crazy’, ‘nutty’ or ‘unwell’. They were shocked to hear that we all have mental health.
I know some people find it difficult to talk to children about mental health, because they’re worried it might upset their child, they don’t know how to talk about it or they think it’s something children don’t need to know about. But talking to children about mental health from a young age can help them understand their emotions, become more resilient, reduce stigma about mental illness, and teach them how to look after themselves mentally as well as physically.
Mental health is just as important as physical health.
We talk to our children about looking after their physical wellbeing; eating vegetables, getting enough sleep, exercising etc. Most people know how to look after their physical health. So, in the same way we talk to them about eating vegetables to keep their body healthy and strong, we need to talk about ways they can be mentally healthy too.
How can we start the conversation with our children?
- Talk about emotions; acknowledge and name them in everyday conversations. ‘It looks like you are angry about losing your toy.’ ‘I can see you are sad that we’ve had to cancel swimming today.’ You can even talk about how you are feeling too. ‘I’m so angry the heating is broken.’
- Help your children notice how different emotions can make us feel; we might have a wobbly tummy if we are worried, we can feel hot when we feel angry and tired when we are sad. This can help children recognise what emotion they are feeling.
- Make time to ask your children how they are feeling. You can do this while driving in the car, playing together or even while they are in the bath.
- Try not to use negative language when talking about mental health; avoid words such as ‘crazy’ or ‘nutter’. Language like this is offensive. Children need to know that it’s common to get an illness like depression or anxiety, just like it’s just common to get a cold or the flu.
Resources to help you and your children
I found this video about mental health, it’s very child friendly and informative. Talking Mental Health is an animation designed to help begin conversations about mental health in the classroom and beyond. You can watch this with your children.
If you’re worried that your child is mentally unwell, there are a number of resources to help you help them. You can speak with your GP about what you’ve noticed, talk to a psychologist or visit Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Young Minds or Place2Be.