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Children notice how the adults around them interact and react to one another. Mental health disorders cause some parents to develop maladaptive and unhealthy relationships. Meanwhile, children may feel responsible for changes they don’t understand. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “It can be hard to talk to your child, dependent, or person you are caring for about mental health problems.” However, the experts at Alter Wellness Care can help you find positive ways to discuss mental health issues with your child.
Effects of Mental Health Disorders on Children
Children internalize fears and may feel guilt or shame if they believe their behaviors somehow contributed to a loved one’s maladaptive behaviors. Parents may need additional help addressing these topics with their children. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “Families are central to child safety, permanency, and well-being, and all families need support.” Alter Wellness Care assists families with finding positive ways to discuss mental health disorders with younger children.
Mental health disorders in the family affect children in the following ways:
- Increasing stress and anxiety
- Causing self-isolating behaviors
- Reducing self-confidence and self-esteem
- Creating tension between members of the family
- Can cause eating disorders
Every child reacts differently to changes within the family unit. You may notice angry outbursts, social withdrawal, or extreme mood swings. Speaking with your child about their behavior and your own mental health reduces their risk of developing unhealthy coping techniques. However, discussing mental health topics with young children is not always easy. Very young children may not fully understand, and older ones may feel responsible in some way. An open line of communication can help your child feel comfortable talking about mental health.
Reducing Stigmas About Mental Health
Children are more likely to believe stigmas about mental health. Hearing about stigmas and stereotypes on television, the radio, or at school may cause children to misunderstand what is happening with their loved ones. Before talking to your child about mental health, it is essential to understand what stigmas they may have encountered. Ask your child what they know about mental health. You can use their current understanding to guide how you discuss your own mental health issues.
A few ways to reduce stigmas include:
- Providing children with age-appropriate mental health education materials
- Individual therapy with a child psychologist
- Family therapy
- Open discussions about mental health
Parents and guardians are responsible for ensuring children feel comfortable talking about their own mental health and the mental health of family members. Providing your child with a safe space for discussing mental health topics reduces their risk of developing substance misuse or mental health disorders as an adult.
How to Talk to Your Child About Mental Health Issues
After learning more about how your child thinks about mental health, you can begin to discuss your diagnosis and treatment. Some of the ways you can approach these topics include:
- Sharing literature, videos, or websites with additional information for them to look at after your conversation
- Speaking to children with a therapist or counselor present to guide the conversation and answer any questions
- Having the conversation in a neutral space with several supportive family members present
Children may need time to process what they learn about mental health. Providing them access to a counselor, therapist, or other resources allows them to gain further information at their own pace. Children should also feel comfortable coming to you if they have more questions. Make it clear that you support them and respect their thoughts and opinions. You can help them learn and grow by creating a nonjudgmental space for mental health discussions.
Listening to Your Child and Discussing Mental Health
Talking about your mental health journey is not always easy. However, your therapist or other members of your support system can guide you through the process. Your care team can help you find positive ways to talk with your children about mental health.
Some of the conversations you can have with younger children include:
- Explaining that nothing they did caused the problem and that they are not at fault
- Encouraging them to ask questions and share how they feel about the situation
- Reassuring them that you are in treatment and will get better
Children can process things more quickly if they clearly understand the situation. Being open about your condition and reassuring them that you will be fine can go a long way toward reducing their stress or anxiety about any family tension. Actively listen to what they have to say and guide your discussion based on their responses.
Psychoeducational Groups at Alter Wellness Care
Alter Wellness Care offers psychoeducational groups as part of every treatment program. You can use the information you learn in these group sessions to give you an idea of how to approach specific mental health topics with your child. By educating yourself first, you will be better prepared to answer your child’s questions. The care team also provides additional resources for parents struggling to communicate their condition to younger children.
Children are affected by everything around them. They may notice changes and make assumptions if you have moderate or severe mental health symptoms. Discussing your mental health with younger children is not always easy. However, it can help children better understand your behaviors and adjust to the situation in a more healthy way. In addition, openly discussing your mental health struggles will make it easier for your children to reach out and discuss their own mental health as they grow older. You can share your mental health journey with your child and help them grow. To learn more about the programs and services at Alter Wellness Care, call our office today at (866) 311-3510.