May marks National Mental Health Awareness Month, a time when we all need to be unified in our support of individuals who struggle with a mental health concern. One out of every five adults will experience a mental health concern at some point in their lives, and that is why speaking up and talking about mental health is vitally important.
During May, while we are often reminded that the mental health of adults is important, May 7 marks National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day—a day that is close to our organization’s heart. Calling attention to the importance of our children’s mental health is a critical component of their development process. Openly discussing your children’s mental health fosters your relationship with them, promotes positive development, encourages resilience, and builds empathy as they grow older. Having consistent and proactive conversations with them also shows them that their feels and emotions are real and something that must not be ignored.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so many of our children have experienced mental health issues, like anxiety and depression. The last 14 months have particularly hard, and we will probably be discovering the wounds that the pandemic inflicted on our children for years to come. That is why it is more important than ever to pay attention to our children’s mental and physical health.
Towards that end, although we celebrate Mental Health Awareness in May, here at the Pa Family Support Alliance, we are always encouraging parents and caregivers that it is always the right time to have open and candid conversations with your children.
When children suffer from abuse and neglect, the ramifications on their mental health throughout their lifespan is profound. That is why talking about serious issues with your children when they are young, like consent, helps to protect them and lets them know that boundaries are important.
Here are a few tips we have put together on this issue:
Talking about consent can be difficult for you and your children, especially when they are young. Using alternative language and words like “body, space, and touch” can help your children understand the key components of consent without confusing them. Ask them what they are comfortable with and tell them what is, and what is not, appropriate behavior. As you discuss the importance of this with them, allow your child time to process this new information. Checking back in a few hours or days later can also be helpful. Conversations about consent should not occur only once but throughout the various stages of their development.
Setting boundaries with your children encourages them to express how they feel in an open manner. Tell them it is completely acceptable to speak up when they feel uncomfortable and to communicate what they like and do not like. Work with your child to help them understand they are in control of their own bodies. Print out some coloring pages and talk through how your child has the power of their body. Additionally, teach them that they should tell you when they feel sad, hurt, or angry, and explain why it is important to openly talk about these feelings.
Exploring ways to learn together helps your children understand that you are an ally and advocate for them. In an appropriate manner, meet your children where they are with age-related activities. Watching this video helps children understand they are the bosses of their own bodies. Read books with your children that help them understand, like Miles is the Boss of His Body, My Body! What I Say Goes!, and Personal Space Camp.
As parents and caregivers, it is our responsibility to try and keep our children safe. This means we need to have conversations with our kids that can sometimes be uncomfortable or challenging for us. Every child deserves to have supportive adults in their lives who are willing to have open and difficult conversations about consent, feelings, and mental health. Together, we can support our children by providing them with a safe, positive environment that allows them to grow, learn, thrive, and develop.