Today’s post comes to us from Caroline who is a health and tech blogger. She discusses the importance of having open and honest communication with your children about the mental illness of a family member. Thank you, Caroline, for sharing with us at www.rtor.org. –Veronique Hoebeke, Associate Editor
How to Address Mental Health Issues In The Family With Your Children
When explaining a mental health issue to your children, it’s essential to try and help them understand the condition and hold compassion towards the person who has it. Children have a natural sense of sympathy and an intuitive love for their family. However, if they aren’t aware of the mental health issue or feel as though they’re being blocked out, it will cause them to become frustrated and give them a sense of alienation.
Through giving your children the knowledge necessary for them to grasp the condition your family member is dealing with, they will become calmer and more compassionate towards the situation.
Maintain Honest Communication
Depending on the age of your children, you’ll want to communicate the situation to them in a way that they understand. However, it’s important to be honest. Sugarcoating certain things to children seems appropriate under specific circumstances, but when it comes to health and challenges that may impact them directly, it’s only fair to your children to be completely honest.
Explain the condition to your children clearly and use as many approaches as necessary to ensure that they understand. Talk about how the family member is impacted by the condition, as this will help your child to understand why they may be acting a certain way sometimes.
Also, be sure to set aside time to talk with your children about how they’re feeling. This will also give you a chance to answer any questions or concerns that your children may have about developments or events that may have occurred recently.
If you have an existing “crisis plan” which involves hospitalization, it’s incredibly useful and wise to explain this plan to your children. To reduce the amount of trauma and emotional stress your children may go through at a time such as this, it’s best to prepare them for these kinds of events. That way they understand what’s going on, and know if they can be of help.
Keep A Close Eye On Their Mental Well-being
If your children begin to exhibit radical changes in their behavior, it’s important to assess the situation and talk to them about their feelings and emotions. Find out what’s bothering them and see if you can help them to understand what’s going on. Confusion and the inability to communicate feelings often leads to frustration and anger in children, so as a parent it’s important to try to uncover these messages or feelings for them.
Talk with your children’s teachers and explain the situation to them. Ask them to keep a close eye on your children’s behavior so that you can know how they’re behaving outside of the family and home environment.
It’s vital for your children’s well-being that they feel relatively comfortable and secure in all areas of their life. If they’re feeling frustrated with home life at present, they may not show their anger at home; it could come out at school or on the playground.
Enlist the Help of Support Services
Depending on the age and abilities of your children, there are numerous services they can use to learn more about dealing with a mental health condition in the family. Here are a few solutions you may want to introduce to your children (depending on their age):
- Online therapy
- Online forums
- Peer monitoring
If your children are being affected by the mental health condition of a family member, a skilled child therapist can help them. If your children do choose to use online services, it is a good idea to run their activity through a secure connection such as utilizing a Virtual Private Network (on top of utilizing other online safety precautions). If they’re going to be talking about personal or private issues, it’s important to feel safe and secure knowing that information and details will remain hidden.
Online forums can be very useful for children, as you can scan popular topics and questions raised by others. Depending on the exposure of that forum, you can also read through in-depth discussions and experiences that a variety of people have had and are facing with specific mental health challenges.
Search the internet for forums related to mental health or try a specific search for the mental health condition followed by the word “forum.” Review the results you’re presented with and see if any appropriate solutions come up. If you feel there are any worthwhile options, present them to your children and tell them that it is a resource that can be considered.
Podcasts can be a good option for older children and perhaps teenagers who wish to learn more about their family member’s mental health condition. There is even a podcast that addresses the topic of this blog post helping parents to address mental health issues in the family with their children entitled “Child in Mind.”
Overall, addressing mental health issues in the family with your children comes down to being patient and learning to communicate the challenges the family member is facing. There is a certain degree of trial and error involved in this process. You may find that you must utilize a variety of approaches until you find something that makes sense to your children.
Be sure to monitor your children’s behavior both at home and any other places they regularly visit, whether you’re present with them or not. Talk with other parents and teachers at times to find out if anything is amiss.
Finally, give your children the tools to learn about the mental health condition or vent anything they feel the need to through support services such as online forums, counseling and on-topic podcasts.
Have any tips or advice on communicating mental health issues with children? Leave us a comment in the section below.
Caroline is a health and tech blogger who writes frequently about mental health. She likes to help spread awareness for the proper understanding of mental health challenges that people face, especially in the family environment. You can read more of her work at ehealthinformer.com
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