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Tips on How to Speak to Children About Mental Health

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The number of children experiencing difficulties with their mental health seems to be increasing by the year, yet the idea of talking to children about their mental health can seem like a daunting task for many adults.

Knowing how to pitch the subject to young people can be a confusing and difficult area; we need to explore some ways to improve our communication with children regarding discussing this important topic. 

Be aware of your pitch

Children can go through a wide range of developmental stages, which can provide challenges in identifying the right pitch for their stage and age. If the child is young, it could be better to use metaphors, stories or even toys to convey the idea of mental health. This can turn quite an abstract subject into something more relatable! If the child is older, and verging on teenage years, treating them as an adult may be more appropriate.

A common barrier for young people in discussing mental health is feeling that they are being treated as a child, so treating them with respect and as young adults can be beneficial. 

Use affective examples

Following on from the previous point, using examples that young people can understand in our pitch can really help promote a positive conversation. Drawings, toys, and stories can be useful for younger audiences to enjoy and relate to mental health topics. For older children, metaphors can be a great way to break down the barrier of discussing the complex area of mental health. A great example the ‘black dog’ metaphor, in which the black dog is used to describe depression. 

Pitch it at the right time

Another important thing to bear in mind is where and when we try to engage in a discussion with young people. You never know how the child or young person may truly be feeling, and where they feel most comfortable talking about mental health. Therefore, it is a good idea to check in and collaborate with them on finding the best time to have a discussion.

Making sure you are in a private and comforting place can also ensure confidentiality and knowing there is support can be incredibly important in increasing the confidence for both yourself, and the young person in talking about sensitive and difficult experiences with mental health.

Don’t wait for things to go wrong

A big problem with discussions around mental health (for both adults and children!) is waiting until someone is struggling to start a conversation around the subject. Whilst it is important to be able to talk about these things during difficult times, it can be incredibly useful to start an open conversation around mental health early, when things are relatively stable and normal!

Be open and honest

If you are feeling anxious and uncomfortable discussing mental health, this is easily picked up on by the child you are trying to talk to. It is important to set a positive example and show that you feel comfortable and value talking about your own mental health, to ensure that the person you are talking to can feel confident in discussing their own mental health with you.

Also, it’s important to show you are interested and care about the person. Try to occasionally check in with how the person is feeling or ask what emotions they are experiencing. This demonstrates you are interested and willing to talk about mental health. 


Image credit: Freepik

Fraser Smith is the CEO of GetPsyched. He also hosts a YouTube channel, where he creates contents on a range of topics within psychology. 

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