As part of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked Joao Lourenco, Child Psychologist at our Aspris Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, to provide his expert opinion on talking with children and young people about mental health.
In this blog, Joao explains why parents should talk to their children about mental health, provides eight steps for parents to consider when approaching this crucial aspect of wellbeing, and advises on important points to consider when discussing your own mental health with your child.
Should I discuss mental health with my children?
In many of my parental sessions, the recurring questions emerge: "Should we discuss mental health with our children?", and "can we be open about our own mental health struggles as parents?"
The answer is yes. By openly addressing mental health topics, parents not only communicate that it's acceptable to talk about feelings and seek support, but they also set a powerful example for their children.
Sharing personal experiences creates a foundation of trust between parents and children. This openness in children's mental health awareness not only fosters a sense of normalisation around mental health, but also helps to establish a supportive environment where emotions can be expressed without judgment.
How should I talk to my child about my own mental health?
It's crucial to convey the message that seeking help is not only acceptable but also a commendable step towards better mental wellbeing.
Children are naturally curious, and when they witness their parents discussing mental health or attending therapy sessions, it sparks their interest. This curiosity can be transformed into an opportunity for parents to demystify mental health, making it clear that seeking professional help is a positive and proactive way to manage one's emotional wellbeing.
By normalising these conversations, we empower our children to prioritise their mental health and encourage them to seek help when needed. Together, let's break the mental health stigma and create a future where open conversations about children’s mental health are the norm.
Eight steps for parents to take when talking about mental health with children
- Modelling healthy behaviour: Parents serve as role models for their children. By openly discussing their own mental health, parents demonstrate that it's okay to talk about feelings and seek support. This modelling can encourage children to prioritise their mental wellbeing as they grow older.
- Building trust: Sharing personal experiences fosters a sense of trust between parents and children. When parents are open about their mental health, it can strengthen the parent-child relationship, making their child feel more comfortable discussing their own feelings and concerns.
- Reducing stigma: Open conversations about mental health contribute to destigmatising mental health issues. If children see their parents talking openly and non-judgmentally about mental health, it helps normalise the discussion and reduces the stigma associated with seeking help.
- Teaching coping strategies: Parents can share the coping mechanisms they use to manage stress, anxiety, or other mental health challenges. By providing coping strategies for children’s mental health, children are better equipped to apply them in their own lives.
- Family support system: Discussing mental health as a family helps create a supportive environment. When everyone is aware of each other's emotional wellbeing, family members can offer support and understanding during difficult times.
- Encouraging help-seeking behaviour: If parents talk about seeking professional help or counselling when needed, it sends a powerful message to children that it's okay to ask for help. This can be particularly important if the parent is dealing with a mental health issue that requires professional intervention.
- Enhancing communication skills: Openly discussing mental health enhances communication skills within the family. It encourages honest and open communication, creating an atmosphere where family members feel comfortable expressing their emotions and concerns.
- Humanising parents: Children may view their parents as invincible or immune to challenges. Sharing experiences related to mental health helps humanise parents, showing that everyone faces difficulties, and it's okay to acknowledge and address them.
Important points to consider when talking to your child about your own mental health
It's important to note that the level of detail shared should be age-appropriate, and parents should consider the individual needs and sensitivities of each child.
While discussing children's mental health can be beneficial, parents should also be mindful of not burdening their children with inappropriate information or putting them in a caregiving role.
If a parent is dealing with significant mental health issues, it may be helpful to seek guidance from mental health professionals on how to approach these conversations with their children.
Get in touch
If you require further information on our mental health services or children and adolescent services, please call our helpful team today on (+971) 4 385 4493 for our Dubai clinic, or (+971) 2 651 8111 for our Abu Dhabi clinic. Alternatively, please click here to make an online enquiry.