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Talking to Your Kids about the Importance of Mental Health
Understanding certain emotions can be challenging for many people, including kids. And although parents may find it difficult to initiate a conversation with their kids about mental health, it is never too early to start talking about its importance. The sooner emotions can be discussed and understood, the more likely the child is to develop healthy emotional habits.
How do you explain mental health to children?
It’s important to talk to kids in a way that is age appropriate. With older kids, it is important to take the time to educate them, and to correct any misinformation they may have heard. Younger kids tend to respond best to visual aids with concrete information presented as simply as possible.
Kati Guernsey, Director of Child Services at Centerstone, recommends that parents of younger children utilize the hand model. “It’s really great to help them visualize,” Guernsey says. “And the kids love it, too.” Dr. Dan Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, developed this method which gives kids a visual aid to help them understand, scientifically, what is happening in their brains and bodies when their emotions take over.
How to process big emotions with kids
When initiating a conversation about big emotions like anger or fear with kids, wait until they’re in a calm state of mind. Don’t ask them to process any big emotions while they are actively experiencing them. Once any big emotions have subsided, your child may be able to better hear what you have to say. Encourage calmness in your child by being calm yourself. Your reaction can be an example for your child to do the same.
According to Guernsey, anger can be a common emotion, because it’s easy for kids to express. However, it can be masking an underlying emotion such as fear or sadness. Once kids learn and understand how to manage their anger, other emotions can quickly become more manageable, too. The best way to teach kids to process their emotions is to teach them healthy coping mechanisms such as counting, breathing exercises, and positive self-talk. Encourage your kids to practice healthy coping skills until they become a habit.
How I can support my kids’ mental health?
Even if children are unable to express how they are feeling, do your best to actively listen. And don’t forget, asking simple questions can be a powerful tool for helping kids understand emotions and their overall state of mental well-being, as well as serve as a conversation starter. Sharing your own mental health experiences and modeling positive behavior and coping skills is also beneficial. It is important that all children feel seen and heard, and are given a safe space to explore and process their emotions.
If you believe your child is experiencing mental health concerns or behaviors, Centerstone can help. Call us at 877-HOPE123 (877-467-3123) or visit our counseling services page.