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Whether to talk about your own mental health or for a classmate, or a family member or friend— every psychiatrist in Augusta County, VA knows how important it is to have open conversations with your kids. There’s no need to hide it and add to the existing stigma of mental illness. As you probably know, kids are naturally curious, so they definitely have questions about it. Whether you’re three years old or about to enter your eighties, understanding mental illnesses can be challenging. Myths and misinformation only cause anxiety, enforce harmful stereotypes, and promote stigma. Parents can help children understand that bipolar disorder, major depression, PTSD, and mood and thought disorders are all real illnesses that should be regarded as such. To do this, you should:

  • Be straightforward
  • Talk to them at a level that is appropriate to a child’s age and development
  • Make sure they feel safe and comfortable
  • Watch their child’s reaction
  • Slow down or back up if they become confused or upset

By doing this you’re making sure your child walks away from the conversation with understanding and doesn’t have any stigmas. Of course, depending on the child’s age, the conversation needs to go differently. That’s why we prepared this guide to help you hold the conversation across different ages.

Talking to Toddlers or Pre-School Aged Children

Because of their more limited ability to understand, at this age, they don’t need as much information and need fewer details. Preschool-aged kids focus mainly on what they can see. For example, there may be questions about a person who has an unusual physical appearance or is behaving strangely. They would also be very aware of people who are crying and obviously sad, or yelling and angry. Try to explain that behavior honestly and open a small dialogue about the cause.

Talking to School-Aged Children

Older children typically want more specifics. These questions come especially from friends or family with emotional or behavioral problems. Their concerns and questions are usually very straightforward. They have questions like:

  • “Why are they crying?
  • “Why do they get so mad?”
  • “Why are they talking to themselves?”

School-aged children are worried about their safety or the safety of their family and friends. There it’s important to answer their questions directly and honestly and to reassure them about their concerns and feelings.

Talking to Teenagers

Teenagers are usually very capable of handling more information. This means you might find your teenager asking more specific and difficult questions. Because teenagers often talk more openly with their friends and peers than with their parents, some teens may have already had misinformation about mental illnesses. It’s important to have that conversation so they don’t carry with them any stigma that can hurt them or others in the future. To have this talk, try doing a very honest open discussion. Teens are usually not as open or responsive when a conversation feels like a lecture.

Need More Mental Illness Help?

Talking to children about mental illnesses can be a great opportunity for parents to provide their children with information, support, and guidance. At Shenandoah Psychiatric Medicine, we believe that learning about mental illness throughout a child’s life can lead to improved recognition, earlier treatment, greater understanding, and compassion, as well as decreased stigma. If you want to learn more about your mental illness or talk to your child about one, feel free to contact us. Our psychiatrists in Augusta County, VA specialize in mood and thought disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD, major depression, and anxiety. We’d love to help in any way we can