Mental health is something we all have, no matter our age. In spite of this, conversations around mental health are often reserved for adults or teenagers – but children should be aware of and become involved in the discussion too. By encouraging a more open attitude towards the topic, we can raise awareness and potentially address concerns or issues at a much earlier stage.
Why is it important to talk about children's mental health?
It is essential to provide children with an understanding of mental health in their formative years, even if it’s conceptual and somewhat abstract. Just as we teach children to look after their physical health, being open and honest about their psychological wellbeing can help them navigate current or future challenges with greater understanding and awareness.
Spotting the signs that a child is struggling with their mental health
When a child is going through something difficult, this could present itself, behaviourally speaking, in a manner of different forms. Emotions and challenges manifest themselves differently for all of us, but there are some key things to look out for in children:
- Appearing more withdrawn or distant than usual
- Being visually upset
- Acting out with aggression or violence
- Misbehaving, especially if the child is usually well-mannered
Children may not have the understanding or vocabulary to approach a parent/guardian/teacher or friend about their thoughts and feelings. This is why it’s important to make close observations and think carefully about what they might be experiencing but not necessarily able to articulate.
Talking to children about mental health
Knowing how to talk to children about mental health can seem daunting; group settings, such as the classroom, are good places to plant the seeds. However, spotting the signs and addressing them with children on an individual level can come down to anyone who is in their life – that might be a parent, grandparent or teacher, for example.
Part of creating dialogue on bigger topics like this requires introduction and normalisation. It also demands sensitivity, so as not to close anyone off from the idea of talking openly about thoughts and feelings.
When speaking to children about mental health, it is sensible to do so in the context of a positive environment. What this looks like will depend on the child themselves, but the crucial element is making sure they feel safe.
Talking about mental health can be hard for anyone, at any age. So, remember to approach the topic gently, create a judgement-free zone, and most importantly, listen to the child you’re talking to and respond to any questions they have. You are not expected to have all the answers, but it can help to do some prior reading or speak to others for advice.
For further information, you may wish to consult the resources below: