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How To Teach Children About Mental Health

Life is stressful, even when you’re a child, so it’s important to teach children about mental health. It’ll help protect them from developing mental health issues growing up as well as when they’re an adult running around doing boring work stuff. Growing up, I suffered from extremely poor mental health because of racial abuse. I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t affected by poor mental health, and I’m still dealing with the fallout from my childhood decades later. So yeah, it’s important to teach children about mental health.

 

 

Children And Mental Health

 

We like to think we can protect our children from every little thing, including anything that might affect their mental health. But that’s just not possible. Children can, and do, suffer from mental health problems, because I wasn’t the exception to the rule as a child.

 

Some people might think that if children do have a brush with poor mental health that it’ll just be mild or they’ll bounce back, but often that isn’t the case. I was suicidal by the time I was eight-years-old. Just like any adult, we won’t bounce back without the right support.

 

Around 60 years ago, physicians dismissed the existence of significant depressive disorders in children, believing children lacked the mature psychologic and cognitive structure necessary to experience these problems (Son and Kirchner, 2000). Since then, evidence has showed that children and young adults experience mental health problems, which I can attest to.

 

The rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm in children and young people are rising, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Children dealing with mental health issues can see their academic performance suffer, especially if compounded by the stress to do will in their mountain of tests. Although this could be the proverbial chicken and the egg problem.

 

Since the start of the pandemic, the Mental Health Foundation has found that the stress of living through the pandemic has taken its toll on children and young adults as well. My partner has told me about how one of their friend’s children is struggling with the pandemic and showing signs of generalised anxiety. So it’s more important than ever to teach children about mental health.

 

Talking to children about mental health will help them recognise issues within themselves and it’ll help teach them how to better understand how others might feel. It’ll also provide them with valuable skills which they can benefit from for the rest of their lives, which hopefully they’ll also pass on to their children if they have them.

 

The belief that we’re somehow protecting children because we think they’re too young to learn about mental health couldn’t be further from the truth. You’re doing them a disservice because poor mental health will come for our children if you like it or not. The earlier children learn about mental health, the better. School life is stressful too, just like work, except you can also have bullying and puberty thrown into the mix. Poor mental health doesn’t discriminate by race, gender, socioeconomic status, or age. 

 

We teach children how to tie their shoes, clean their teeth, and wash their faces, so let’s teach them other important life skills. Let’s help all children to become unaware of what mental health is and how they can express their mental health concerns.

 

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Talking To Children About Mental Health

 

An important step to talking about mental health with children is to bring it down to a level they can understand. You can do this by talking to them about how they can sometimes have sad days and happy days. You can also use yourself as an example so you can provide them with appropriate examples of how you’ve had happy and sad days. Being open about like this will help remove the stigma of mental health, allowing the children to feel safe about sharing their own feelings.

 

Another method you can use when talking to children about mental health is to relate it to physical health to help them understand. For example, you could have a conversation about how your heart beats changes when running around and when you’re scared, both causing the heart to beat faster. This will then allow you to talk about how your heart can beat faster from feeling like you’re scared, without something scaring you. Now you can explain to them that this is called anxiety and that some people can feel this way most days, often without knowing why.

 

The picture is split in two with the top image being of a group of children playing together outside. The bottom image being of another group of children playing together outside. The two images are separated by the article title - How To Teach Children About Mental Health

 

What Can Influence Children’s Mental Health?

 

Below are some basic talking points you can use to talk about what things might affect any child’s mental health to help them understand.

 

Harm

  • Fighting and falling out with your friends.
  • Finding school work difficult.
  • Struggling with homework.
  • Being worried about the health of a family member or friend.
  • Being bullied and/or cyberbullied.

 

Protect

  • Having close friends to talk to.
  • Having a teacher or other staff member at school you can go to.
  • Spending time with your family.
  • Having hobbies or enjoying your interests.
  • Eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep.

 

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8 Self-Care Ideas For Children

 

Here are eight self-care ideas you can do with your children or you can teach your children to do on their own.

 

Goal setting

Teach children to set themselves little goals to achieve or get them to ask for tasks they can complete. This will help give them a sense of purpose and achievement. For example, you could start the weekend off by asking your child what they’re going to do today and then help create goals based on their reply.

 

Having a laugh

Laughter is the best medicine, as they say, so help your children to enjoy a good laugh. You can do this by sharing jokes, having a face-pulling contest, or watching your child’s favourite show with them. Remember, all the jokes you know from childhood will be new to them, so it’s your time to shine.

 

Cloud spotting

Embrace your child’s imagination by doing some cloud spotting. It’s pretty simple, just watch the clouds go by and talk about what shapes the clouds form. This will help you kid to relax and take their mind off of things. I still find myself doing this as adult sometimes. 

 

Crafting

Staying on the subject of imagination, allow your children to engage in creative activities so they can enjoy crafting or painting as a way to express themselves and to relax. I used to love drawing, painting, and generally creating stuff as a child.

 

Ask for help

Teach your child that it’s ok to ask for help by creating a safe space at home. Also, lead by example by showing you’re also ok with asking for help. Showing it’s ok to ask for help by leading by example can easily be done. Just ask for help from your partner around them and even ask your children for help. You’ll also need to make sure you don’t shut down your children’s attempts to ask for help as well, or eventually they’ll stop asking.

 

Family activities

Engaging in any family activity will help with your child’s mental health. The activities you choose can be anything like going on a walk, playing a spot, yoga, exercising, breathing exercises, or playing a board game.

 

Telling stories

Rather than just reading stories with your children, which you can also do, make stories up together or take turns making up stories. You could ask your child to create a storybook which they can take you through before bedtime. Keeps them busy, it’s creative, and you get to share a story together.

 

Calming techniques

If yours or any child needs help to calm down, get them to imagine their favourite place, think of their favourite things, or name an animal for each letter of the alphabet in order. These simple activities should help distract them in a similar way to using the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.

 

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4 Ways To Improve Children’s Mental Wellbeing

 

Emotional volcano

This idea comes courtesy of ‘Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World’ via HuffPost. This is a simple visual task you can do with your child to help explain complex emotions and why holding them in is bad.

 

To start, you’ll need to draw a volcano. Then tell your children how everyone can experience different emotions during the day, but if we hold those emotions in instead of expressing them, it can be bad. Tell them the emotions stay within the volcano bubbling away and building up. Explain to the children that the longer the emotions are allowed to build up, the more likely it’ll erupt. Then say something like:

 

“Boom! And just like a volcano, when you erupt, you’ll start crying, screaming, and kicking. But if you express or talk about your emotions before that happens, then you can avoid the eruption”.

 

Praise

We all like getting praise. However, if it’s a lie, then it can often make us feel worse, rather than better. Therefore, provide children with genuine, realistic praise to build their self-esteem. Having healthy self-esteem helps children navigate situations that might make them feel bad. Also, it’s a good idea not to offer praise for stuff that’s out of the child’s control or say stuff like “you’re the smartest kid in school”, instead, praise their efforts. That’ll motivate them to keep making the effort. Being told you’re the smartest kid in school can lead to pressure to live up to that, something I covered in my imposter syndrome article about how such thoughts can undermine someone’s wellbeing.

 

Give opportunities for independence

A part of growing up is learning to be independent and children get a sense of confidence when they can do things for themselves. Create opportunities where children can do things for themself so they can enjoy a little confidence boost.

 

Healthy self-talk

Children can easily become frustrated, especially when they think they can’t do something or if they keep failing at something. While it might be tempting to tell your children that they’ll be good at it in the end, it might be better to ask them how they could get better at it. By doing that, you’re getting them to practice problem solving. Plus, you can nudge them in the right direction without doing it for them.

 

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Other Ways To Support Children

 

One thing I wish was taught at my school growing up would have been acceptance. Talk to children about how it’s ok to be different and how we’re all worthy of love and support. You can do this by talking about LGBTIQ+ children, children from different cultures and ethnic groups, children who are refugee and asylum seekers, children with disabilities, and children who’ve been adopted. Talking about how they’re the same but different, and how that’s ok, is better than raising them to be colour blind. Be sure to talk about the benefits of living in a diverse community and how this diversity adds to the community, making them better.

 

Another thing you could do is talk about how people can be good and bad at different things. Using yourself as an example, you could list some things you’re good and bad at that they’ll understand. Then you can ask the children to make their own lists. This has the add benefit of allowing you to identify any areas they might need extra support with.

 

As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with childhood mental health and talking to children about mental health in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up to my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new posts by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom left corner.

 

Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, then you can make a donation of any size below as well. Until next time, Unwanted Life readers.

 

 

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References

 

Son, S. E., & Kirchner, J. T. (2000). Depression in children and adolescents. American family physician62(10), 2297-2308. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/1115/p2297.html.

 

Additional Resources

 

133 Mental Health and Learning Resources for Kids and Teens

74 thoughts on “How To Teach Children About Mental Health

  1. I totally agree. Children should be encouraged to talk about mental health and that it’s healthy to express strong emotions And, more services should be provided to support them.
    Even though I didn’t have anxiety as a child I remember being constantly worried. I would have appreciated seeing a counsellor.

  2. I think this is the best thing I’ve read this week. And it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. There has been a lot of emotional changes for my daughter (5 in Feb) recently and it does make me worry about her mental health. Up until recently I came to know how much she bottled it all up but thankfully one day shared how she feels. I got her emotion discs that have different expressions on them and at bedtime I ask her to choose the one she’s feeling and we talk about it. It’s so sad that people dismiss a child’s mental well-being when in fact that can affect them for the rest of their lives. Recently someone said to me that it was actually laughable that I was worried about a 4 year olds mental health!!

    • That’s concerning the people whould laugh at the idea of wanting to protect the mental health of your child, or any child.

      The feelings discs seems like a fantastic idea. Is that a product you bought or made yourself?

  3. I’d love to see the studies and research psychologists based their findings on regarding children and mental health. As with yourself, and myself we can find a lot of mental health issues go back to childhood, whether this is where they originated or whether this is where things like Anxiety, Depression and other conditions could have been addressed before they plagued the teenage years and were carried into adulthood x

    • Children can bounce back quickly with the right mental health and emotional support, because we lose that mental flexibility as we become adults. So it’s possible if we’d had the right support as children we could have avoided developing the mental health issues we have as adults

  4. What a great topic. I agree, I think its crucial for kids to learn about mental health early on. Not only so they’re aware, but also so that they can talk openly about it.

  5. Thank you for writing about this. Children are equally as susceptible to mental health illnesses as adults and it’s equally important for them to learn about mental health. Not only to protect them, but to help them stay informed.

  6. Fantastic post! I think it’s important to speak to children about tough subjects, such as mental health, in an appropriate way that is relevant to them. Thank you so much for this insight 🙂

  7. Great post what an important topic. I wish these kinds of articles were more available back when I was a kid. Very nice tips here and a wonderful way to raise kids to be aware of mental health and emotional intelligence. Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Absolutely brilliant post! This cannot be advocated for enough! I love how you teach how to talk to them, what to say and ways to help them. Love the ideas for childrens self-care. I’m literally going to share this EVERYWHERE.

  9. As a parent of 2 kids who struggle with their mental health I wish I had this information when they were young. But we are managing things better now.

    As always, I appreciate you insight and wisdom on this important topic.

    ~Amy

  10. Excellent post and sensational topic. I dig your tips too because little kid’s minds are wide open even if it doesn’t appear to be the case when they are really young. The subconscious is open as soon as we enter this world.

    Knowing that little kids soak up the world around them means we need to explain that sometimes they’ll have sad moments and other times they’ll feel good. Feeling the sadness or crying is not only okay it is quite necessary to move along the fears that cripple so many of us as we grow older, resist these energies and bury the emotions to create literally all the problems in our lives.

    I have spent many years releasing triggered and suppressed emotions accrued during childhood but feel grateful to have done so. Thank goodness that kids these days are starting to learn it’s okay to feel the fear during their early years to avoid nightmares down the road.

  11. i never understood when it came to health class in school, they would focus solely on physical health; when they need to teach about mental health at the same level. i think we don’t necessarily get rid of said mental illnesses, but we learn to handle them.

  12. I think it’s sad and unfortunate that today we have to teach our children about mental health. It is so weird to me, but with children’s increased use of social media and easy access to information on the internet, it is necessary to teach them at an eary age and more importantly, be able to identify mental health issues they may be facing. Parenting has become much more challenging.
    I love the idea of cloud ☁️ spotting. ☁️ .

    • It’s not just because of the world we live in today, children have always experienced abuse, stress, trauma, emotional difficulties, and bullying and they could have always done with mental health support and education. The only difference is we’re now waking up to that reality, and if we want our children to grow into healthier adults, then we need to start implementing these changes ASAP

  13. I love this topic! I believe it’s very important to introduce mental health to children but as sensitive and careful as possible. Maybe I’d start with teaching them kindness and how to empathize. Tell them how people are different and that we must always be understanding of them. I adore your openness and tips regarding this. Thanks for sharing!

    https://lifebeginsattwenty.com/

  14. Emotional volcano! I like that analogy. People usd to say that kids were resilient and would bounce back. Now we’re spending millions in therapy! Thanks for reminding us about how fragile kids are.

    • I’d says kids are malleable, rather than fragile, and the best way to build resilience in them is by educating them in a way they can understand, rather than having to endure unpleasant experiences to grow that resilience

  15. Childhood experiences, good and bad, shape a big part of who we grow and continue to grow to be. Love that you share what you would have loved to have more of in your childhood, and how not having it affected you.

    It is important more than ever to teach kids about acceptance, inclusivity, expression, and kindness because the world is a more and more diverse place and, when faced with kids who do not understand the kids who are different, it usually turns out to create a harmful and toxic environment.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Hopefully if all children are taught these things we’ll have less populist leaders like Trump and Boris Johnson, as they won’t be able to thrive on ignorance and hate

  16. Exceptionally valuable and important reading, the world needs to change regarding the sensitivities of children mental state, especially within the ignorance of the schooling system. If the works was a little kinder from the get go perhaps we would have a very different and caring, nurturing, inclusive and thoughtful society, I look forward to reading more of your words. Thank you for sharing this.

  17. 100% agree, and I think the importance of children’s mental health has really been highlighted during the pandemic. I’m sorry to hear about your struggle during your childhood. I think it’s definitely a good idea to speak with children about mental health and I like the idea of the volcano to explain it in a way they’ll understand!

  18. You put a lot of thought into this. I’m so sorry for what you experienced as a child. I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, from the age of six. Even as an adult, it’s difficult to pinpoint the source or notice the symptoms building into an absolute breakdown. Following the advice you’ve outlined here will go a long way toward teaching my children how to understand their emotions, confront them, and accept that it’s okay to feel as they do (they’re still just as loved).

  19. This is so true and the wrong belief that children don’t suffer from mental health issues is all too common. I know personally of situations where the assistance could have helped a child going to a difficult situation and their parents ignored it or said that it was no big deal. Thank you for this post. I hope that more people will read it.

  20. Excellent post so important to talk to kids about mental health. It just was not talked about enough when I was young, I had no support when I started having panic attacks as a teenager. As a mother it is now incredibly important for me to be on top of this for my children. M

  21. Such a powerful and important post! Wish that mental health was also a topic that gets touched in school, in case not every child has a supportive environment at home. The earlier we do, the better children can learn to express themselves and their feelings, ask for help and find solutions!

  22. I love this post! I agree, I think in one way or another children should be taught about mental health and learn to understand it from a young age. I grew up with my dad having mental health problems and I wish I understood back then like I do now. Thank you so much for sharing this post! Xo

    Elle – ellegracedeveson.com

  23. This is something I think we could do better here. Large boy had had phases where he feels sad and can’t sleep but doesn’t know why. We’ve always reassured him and encouraged him to talk if he needs to but we haven’t forced him either. We certainly do talk about neurodiversity though, which isn’t the same at all but at least building an awareness that we all experience the world differently and find different parts of life more or less challenging.

  24. I agree children do need to be taught about mental health. My parents did know much about mental health until now that its more popular and people talk about it more. Its good to learn about mental health and teach children when they are young. This will help many children learn and know how to take care of themselves.

  25. I suffered mental health issues as an 80’s child which has left me with many mental scars.

    Now I hae a daughter and shes ended up suffering badly from anxiety.

    Tried to get her help. Local doctor and school has not helped one bit.

    There needs to be a change and take it more seriously like if she had a broken bone

  26. I can’t even begin to put into words how much I relate to this. I was in tears as I was reading the self-care ideas for children, activities that are small yet can have an enormous impact. It’s all I wanted when I was younger, I was diagnosed with depression at 13.

    I want to assure Daisy that she has as much awareness of herself and others. The volcano description is perfectly spot on. May I share this post in my newsletter as I have a monthly favourites section (also, please may I include your article about imposter syndrome too?) 🙂

  27. I completely agree that children should be taught about mental health. When my daughter was in daycare, they were actually doing mindfulness excerises, which I think is great. Now I ask her how she’s feeling and she most often has good days, but every now and then she’ll have a bad day. We also regularly do crafts and family activities together, and I’ll have to keep some of the other things in mind too.

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