As the old adage states, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Just as it’s important to start having conversations about physical health when our children are young, it’s equally crucial to begin talking about mental and emotional health. The earlier and more consistently you include mental health in your discussions with your kids, the more normal the topic becomes to them, and the more comfortable they will be talking with you about it when they need to.
Encourage Them to Speak Up
Let them know that you’re available and willing to listen. Make it clear that you will set aside time to be there for them, but know that you may need to be the one to start the conversation sometimes. Make it clear that them coming to you with a problem is not an inconvenience.
Let them speak, and actively listen. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say in response. Don’t feel as if you need to solve all of their problems. You don’t, and realistically, you may not be able to solve all of them. What you can do, however, is listen and make it clear that they are being heard. Pay attention to their non-verbal communication such as tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Their non-verbals may tell you as much or more than their words do. Put your phone or other distractions away and focus on what they’re telling you.
Believe Them and Take Them Seriously
Don’t downplay their feelings or act as if their struggles aren’t real. Minimizing your teen’s thoughts or feelings will make them less likely to come to you with their problems, and may cause them to withdraw or isolate instead of speaking up. If they make references to depression, self-injury, or suicide, take them seriously. Do not assume that they’re only doing it for attention.
Show Empathy and Validation
Make it clear that you acknowledge their feelings as their truth and their reality. Phrases like “I understand how difficult that must be for you” or “I can tell this situation is painful for you” can be very powerful in making it clear to your teen that they’re not alone and that you have been listening. This will make them feel that you understand, which will make them more likely to open up to you. Reassure them that you care about them, support them, and will do what it takes to help them through the situation.
Be conscious and cautious of your own reactions to what your kids tell you. They look to us for guidance and leadership. it’s important that we maintain control of our emotions around them. What they reveal to us may make us feel a variety of emotions, but it’s crucial that we maintain control. Be aware of your own non-verbals such as tone of voice, volume, facial expressions, and body language. If you feel yourself beginning to lose control, it’s alright to take a moment to compose yourself.
Get Connected to Professional Help
As much as we can help our kids, it’s important to know when to get connected to professional help. Situations involving depression, self-injury, and suicide are serious and often require guidance from a mental health professional. Use the behavioral health treatment locators on our treatment and support resources page to find help near you.