How to Talk to Your Child About Mental Health and Foster Emotional Awareness

Can you imagine a world where mental health is openly discussed in every household, and every primary caretaker is proactive about communicating the importance of emotional well-being to the children in their life? What a vision, right?

Early conversations about mental and emotional wellness set the tone for children – helping them develop an understanding of how to view, process, and talk about their feelings. And, when they understand these things, they learn how to be kinder to themselves, how to move through tough emotions and situations, and how to better support others. However, it’s often easier said than done to navigate these types of conversations at home in an open and constructive way. Parenting is hard to begin with! But, these conversations are crucial and so important for the health of our future generations.

Fostering emotional awareness in children and establishing a foundation of open communication surrounding mental health often takes support and insight from experts. With this said, our hope is that the following strategies and guidance from Laurel Springs’ Counselors can serve as a valuable guide for every parent hoping to raise an emotionally-aware child who deeply values mental well-being. Even one step forward in this direction is meaningful! So, are you ready?

Let’s dive in.

“Feel the Feels” – Understanding Emotions and Staying Present

One resonating thought shared from our counselors was the idea that it is okay to simply “feel the feels.” Many adults have been taught (either in childhood, by society, or through verbalized expectations) how to immediately adjust their feelings to how they think they are supposed to feel about something, rather than how they actually feel. By presenting the emotion in a more “suitable” way, we might feel like we’re less of a burden to those around us and more worthy of being accepted. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth!

Suppressing emotions can have long-term repercussions, and teaching our children how to fully experience and process their emotions is an invaluable skill. Regardless of how hard anyone tries to diminish the intensity of their emotions or disguise them, they will come to the surface eventually. So, we might as well “feel the feels” at the time and get to the other side! By teaching our children to do so, we equip them to handle future challenges and tough seasons of life in a healthy and productive way.

Furthermore, children and teenagers, due to their limited life experience, might believe that uncomfortable feelings like sadness, anger or embarrassment will last indefinitely. Naming emotions can help in grounding them, letting them know that their entire identity isn’t engulfed by a transient feeling. And a pivotal reminder for them? Emotions are just that – transient. They shift, morph, and eventually pass, no matter how intense they may feel in the moment.

Initiating the Conversation

Starting conversations about mental health with anyone in your life can be challenging and nerve-racking. Laurel Springs’ K-8, Academy, and College Counselors know this first-hand! Counter to these emotions, though, exists the truth that engaging your child in a discussion about their emotions and feelings conveys a message that you care enough to ask; and there is nothing more powerful to a child than feeling like they are seen, heard, and deeply valued. Initiating these conversations simply starts with a willingness. From there, here are some suggestions:

  1. Validate feelings: When a child discloses feelings or emotions that may feel uncomfortable to you, it’s very important to validate how they are feeling without casting judgment
  2. Try to avoid statements like “I know how you feel”: Personalizing your child’s experience can create barriers. Remember that the conversation isn’t about you, it’s about them
  3. Minimize distractions: When they talk, give them your undivided attention. This means resisting the urge to answer calls or tend to other tasks.
  4. Encourage articulation: If your child struggles to convey their emotions, ask open-ended questions and actively listen.
  5. Stay authentic: Be genuine in your responses. You don’t need to be your child’s therapist! Just do your personal best, and always be your child’s biggest cheerleader.
  6. Introduce routine quality time: Sometimes a distraction like walking, tossing a football, cooking, or doing another sharable activity can create a more relaxed atmosphere – making potentially serious conversations feel less intimidating.
  7. Seek outside support when needed: Recognize when professional assistance, like counseling, might be beneficial for your child.

The Value of Empathy

“One of the simplest, yet most profound things you can do, is to listen with empathy,” one Laurel Springs Academy College Counselor emphasized. “It’s crucial to acknowledge your child’s emotions without immediately jumping into problem-solving mode.” Of course you want your child to feel better, and it’s only natural for you to want to help free them from any pain or stress they’re experiencing. However, sometimes, all a child needs is someone to hear them, validate their feelings, and provide them with a safe space to land.

Promoting Positivity in Younger Children

For children ages 5-14, nurturing emotional awareness from a young age can lead to the development of resilient and empathetic individuals. A key recommendation from the Laurel Springs’ K-8 Counseling Department is to help your child practice wellness holistically. This can be encouraged in so many ways. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Foster open dialogue: Invite your child to talk about their feelings with someone they trust.
  2. Place an importance on overall well-being: Encourage your child to do the things they love and enjoy most! Also help them understand the importance of eating healthy foods for a healthy brain, getting enough sleep at night, exercising regularly, and taking breaks when they feel overwhelmed.
  3. Recognize feelings as information: Feelings aren’t inherently good or bad; they’re informative. They offer insights into what’s happening within us and around us. By helping younger children and teens recognize their feelings and providing them a space for open conversation, you can nurture self-compassion and emotional awareness.
  4. Visit the Virtual Counseling Resource Center at Laurel Springs: Full-time students can visit the Virtual Counseling Resource Center to access Calm Corner and other mental-health-oriented activities. These can be explored through the LSS Portal.

At the heart of every parent is the desire to see their children flourish. By laying the groundwork for open conversations about mental health and emotional wellness, you’re not only helping them flourish, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of self-understanding and fulfillment.

Putting It All Into Practice

As you reflect on the guidance above and move forward in your communication practice with your child, remember that you’re not supposed to do all of this perfectly. You’re invited to do it honestly and compassionately. Just as our Counseling Department advises to show children empathy and understanding, it’s important for you to show yourself the same.

Every conversation (no matter how short), and every moment of understanding (no matter how seemingly minor), makes a world of difference in a child’s life. So, the next time they want to talk or are struggling to open up, take a moment, listen, and “feel the feels” with them.

At Laurel Springs, we value every family and child. You are important to us. Please remember that we are always here to help.

About Laurel Springs School

Laurel Springs is a fully accredited, private online school for K-12 students. With a premier college-prep curriculum including AP and Honors courses, an ever-expanding schedule of in-person and virtual events, and a global student community spanning over 100 countries, we’re ranked as one of the top online private schools in the nation.

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Laurel Springs School

Laurel Springs School

Laurel Springs is a fully accredited, private online school for K-12 students. With a premier college-prep online curriculum including AP and Honors courses, an ever-expanding schedule of in-person and virtual events, and a global community spanning over 100 countries, we’re ranked as one of the top online private schools in the nation.

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