How to care for and talk about mental health with children

Talking about mental health with your children prepares them to face this very present reality, understand it and be able to ask for help if they need it. We tell you how to approach this conversation.

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 25 February, 2022

Raising and caring for a child not only involves caring for their physical health, but also attend to their emotional needs. This is something that is often forgotten, as it tends to think that little ones have an easy and carefree life. Actually, talking about mental health with children and taking care of their well-being in this regard is essential; For this, we offer you some keys to achieve it.

It is worth mentioning that it is currently estimated that one in eight minors has a psychological disorder and many more may have signs and symptoms that fall short of a diagnosis. More than 50% of mental disorders begin during childhood and adolescence; therefore, prevention must start from the earliest years and start from the family.

Why take care of and talk about mental health with children?

Having breakfast, lunch or dinner together provides a good opportunity to talk about mental health with your children.

Although it may be uncomfortable, it’s never too early to talk about mental health with children. Of course, you will have to adapt the language and the message to their age, but you must inform them of a reality that is increasingly present.

In doing so, you help them understand and develop empathy by the people around them (relatives, friends or classmates) who suffer from a disorder; but, most importantly, you offer them tools to take care of their own psychological well-being.

In reality, children can be exposed to various everyday situations that can generate stress, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems or eating disorders.

Family conflicts, school problems, the stages of change in their lives, the influence of technology and social networks… there are multiple risk factors. Thus, it is essential to teach them to deal with adversity and manage it in a positive way.

How to talk about mental health with children based on their age?

The message about mental health that you should transmit to your children depends a lot on their age, their maturity and their ability to understand. Thus, we show you some guidelines that can help you approach this conversation.

From 2 to 6 years

Mental health education can begin as soon as children begin to speak and understand language. In this first stage it is relevant to focus on emotional education; namely, help children identify emotions and name them and, to a certain extent, help them manage them.

For this, you can use books and stories with illustrations that show the different facial expressions associated with emotions or tools such as the emotional thermometer. Also, it is important to help them with your words to identify what they are feeling from day to day (for example: I know you are angry because you did not want to leave the park).

From 7 to 10 years

At this time, children are already more capable of recognizing and expressing their emotions, so your job must be to facilitate this expression by offering them frequent opportunities to do so.

Talking as a family during lunch or dinner can be a good alternative, but, in addition, so that it does not feel like an interrogation, you can implement joint dynamics. For example, get into the habit of each night sharing with each family member the best and worst of their day, what they’re excited about, and if there’s anything they’re worried about.

From 11 to 14 years

At this stage, you can talk openly about mental illnesses, since children probably already know about many of them. You can start by asking them what they know about it and then correct the misinformation and provide them with more data. It is important to teach them to detect in themselves the signs that something is wrong and encourage them to ask for help if this happens.

14 and up

During adolescence, great changes take place that are difficult to manage, so the key at this time is to supervise (from a distance, offering the independence that the minor demands) and to be understanding and tolerant. The bottom line is try to keep lines of communication open and build trust with the young man who allows him to come to you for help.

Keys to take care of mental health with children

Tailor the conversation about mental health to your children’s understanding and knowledge.

Talking with children about mental health is necessary, but not enough, you also have to provide them with tools and means to take care of their psychological well-being. Some crucial points in this regard are as follows.

positive parenting

Establish a secure attachment bond with parents and growing up with positive and respectful parenting is a great guarantee for good mental health in the future. For this, love and accept your children unconditionally, establish appropriate limits and promote their self-esteem and autonomy.

Good habits

Physical and mental health are closely related, so it is essential to have healthy lifestyle habits from childhood. Balanced diet, regular physical activity, opportunities for socialization, good sleep habits, live in clean and organized environments… These small factors that are neglected on a day-to-day basis can make a difference; Try to instill them in your children.

Adequate internal dialogue

Having a positive self-talk will help your children prevent the onset of mental health problems. This consists of adopt the habit of having flexible and constructive thoughts to help them manage difficulties and be resilient. Thus, they must get used to speaking to themselves with love and respect, not to criticize or compare themselves and to dedicate words of encouragement and motivation.

Keep in mind that children’s thoughts are largely a reflection of the way parents talk to them during its growth. For this, pay attention to your own words.

personal tools

To teach your children to take care of their mental health from an early age, you can train them in certain techniques and practices that are very useful: for example, meditation, assertiveness to know how to communicate or emotional intelligence.

These techniques must be adapted to age; Thus, for younger children it may be useful to implement the calm corner or teach them to perform the Koeppen technique. The older ones can learn other relaxation techniques or use therapeutic writing to channel your emotions.

When to ask for help?

Even if you implement all the above recommendations, no person is exempt from suffering from mental health problems. Therefore, you have to be open to the possibility of asking for professional help. To know when this time has come, talk often with your child but, above all, pay attention to their behavior. Some warning signs may be the following:

  • presents sleep or appetite disturbances
  • Appears sad, irritable, or listlessand has no interest in any activity
  • Has sudden mood swings or overreacts to minor problems
  • Worries excessively and these fears limit their day to day
  • Has difficulty socializing and fit in with their peers
  • Shows physical aches and painss without apparent cause

Talking about mental health with children is a daily job

In short, talking about mental health with your children is opening the door for them to get to know each other, understand each other and help each other when necessary. Normalize conversations about emotions, fears or difficulties It helps eliminate feelings of guilt and shame, and encourages you to take steps to regain your well-being. For this reason, from his early years, he takes care of this aspect.

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