One of the hardest things about taking to your children about mental health is knowing where to start. This is something we have struggled with personally so I would love to share some tips that have helped in our family;
1. Try to have some time to connect every day even if its just 5-10 minutes. This is some time without distractions (tv, homework, phones...) which gives them the opportunity to talk but also helps them to feel closer to you.
2. Have trickier conversations while you are doing other activities such as car journeys, walks and playing together- it is less daunting and will help make your child feel more relaxed.
3. You don't have to have one 'big talk', opening up about emotions and feelings can be sprinkled into every day conversations. e.g "I got really frustrated today at work when..." or "that sounds like that made you really sad when that happened at school..."
4. Don't be afraid to name your own feelings- let them know when you are feeling sad, frustrated, angry. It will help your child to know those feelings are normal. You can also talk about what you do when you have big feelings e.g "when I feel angry I need to leave the room for a minute to calm down."
5. Use resources to help you. We have found some great stories, workbooks and activities that really helped open up conversations at home. You can find some of them linked here on the website.
6. If your child is struggling with something in particular (e.g. anger) they might find it tricky to talk about this subject to start with, this is totally normal. Starting to talk about other things first will open up the conversation and help them get used to talking about emotions and feelings and (in our experience) they will eventually feel more comfortable broaching that subject.
7. Validate their feelings. When children say something upsetting it can be really easy to disagree with them or tell them they are wrong. Children like to feel 'heard', instead you can try "I understand why you feel like .... let's try and work out why or if there is anything I can do to help".
8. Mental Health is becoming much more embedded into the curriculum at school. You can find out what the school are teaching and mirror this at home in your chats e.g. "I heard you are learning about self esteem at the moment..."
Be Happy Resources have 10 more really great tips and some conversation starter cards for free on their website here
Why is it important to talk about mental health at home?
So firstly you don't have to call it "mental health" but it is important to open up conversations about emotions and feelings. Children aren't born with the ability to identify feelings, or to know what to do when they have them. They will be taught at school but it is really important that they feel able to talk to someone at home and by having these conversations it teaches children that it's normal to have big feelings and its ok to talk about them.
1 in 6 children have a diagnosable mental health problem, and many continue to have these problems into adulthood. (places2be)
Having these conversations can feel really daunting, especially as you might not know how to respond "correctly" to what they say (I've been there!). But I think the most important thing is that they know they can talk to you, and it's ok to say you don't know the answer to something too!
What do I know about children's mental health?
I am not a qualified professional in this area and I am always learning, but before starting Olive & Pip my background was in working with children and young people. A huge focus in my previous roles was supporting mental wellbeing and helping young people to reach their potential. As a parent, I have my experience and knowledge tested every day and we have had a whole host of challenges including the one I have spoken about most- separation anxiety, but it has not been limited to this by far. I am always researching and listening to those who know on topics to support my own family and I have just started a qualification in Children's Mental Health- it wasn't in my plan for this year but it is such an important a topic that I feel really drawn to learning more about.
I hope to be able to share some more of the things that have helped us and to support others as I go along 😊