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Children’s Mental Health Week: 7 tips to open discussions about emotions with children

In today’s fast-paced and increasingly complex world, conversations surrounding mental health are more crucial than ever, even with children. Addressing mental health at a young age can help foster resilience, emotional intelligence, and wellbeing throughout their lives. However, discussing such topics with children requires sensitivity, clarity, and understanding. To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, here are seven key points to consider when broaching the subject of mental health with children.

1. Normalise emotions:

Emotions are a fundamental aspect of the human experience, yet children may struggle to understand and express them fully. Normalise the spectrum of emotions by validating their feelings and experiences. Explain that feeling sad, angry, anxious, or even confused is natural and part of being human. Offer examples from their own lives or stories they can relate to, demonstrating that everyone experiences a range of emotions.

2. Use age-appropriate language:

Tailor your language and explanations to the child’s age and cognitive development. For younger children, use simple, concrete language and relatable examples. As they grow older, gradually introduce more complex concepts, always ensuring clarity and comprehension. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that may overwhelm or confuse them. For instance, instead of using terms like “depression” or “anxiety,” you might explain feelings of sadness or worry in relatable terms.

3. Encourage communication:

Foster an environment where children feel safe and encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings openly. Assure them that their emotions are valid and that you’re there to listen without judgment. Actively engage in conversations about mental health, asking open-ended questions and actively listening to their responses. Create regular opportunities for check-ins, whether it’s during family meals, bedtime, or designated “talk time.”

4. Teach coping strategies:

Empower children with practical coping strategies to manage their emotions and navigate challenges effectively. Teach them simple relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. Encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy, such as drawing, writing, or spending time outdoors, as healthy outlets for stress and emotions. Model healthy coping mechanisms in your own behaviour, demonstrating how to manage stress and regulate emotions effectively.

5. Highlight the importance of self-care:

Educate children about the significance of self-care practices for maintaining good mental health. Explain the importance of getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, and engaging in regular physical activity. Encourage them to prioritise activities that bring them joy and fulfilment, whether it’s pursuing hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or practicing mindfulness. Teach them to recognise when they need a break and how to set boundaries to protect their wellbeing.

6. Address stigma and stereotypes:

Challenge any misconceptions or stereotypes surrounding mental health issues, fostering empathy, and understanding. Explain that mental health conditions are common and treatable, just like physical illnesses. Discuss how societal attitudes and stereotypes can contribute to stigma and encourage compassion towards individuals experiencing mental health challenges. Promote inclusivity and acceptance, emphasising that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

7. Seek professional help when needed:

Normalise the idea of seeking professional help when facing significant challenges or struggling with mental health issues. Explain that trained professionals, such as counsellors, therapists, or psychologists, are available to provide support and guidance. Assure children that seeking help is a proactive step towards improving mental health and wellbeing, just like seeking medical help for physical ailments. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there are resources and support systems available to assist them.

In conclusion, engaging in open and honest conversations about mental health with children is crucial for their emotional development and overall wellbeing. By normalising emotions, using age-appropriate language, fostering communication, teaching coping strategies, promoting self-care, addressing stigma, and encouraging help-seeking behaviour, we can empower children to navigate their emotions and build resilience in the face of life’s challenges. These conversations lay the foundation for a healthier, more emotionally intelligent future generation, equipped with the skills and understanding to prioritise and safeguard their mental health.

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