Mental health is definitely becoming a subject that is talked about more openly than it has been in the past, which I am totally here for. I think mental health is something we should all look after, just as much as our physical health.
We should also encourage our children to talk about their feelings from a younger age, because if they feel comfortable telling us when they feel sad/angry/stressed, then it would hopefully mean they would come to us in future.
I wrote about how we started talking to Grayson about the basics last year (which can be read here). Grayson turns 3 in April, and when I talk to him about feelings and mental health it’s still in very basic terms. I don’t want to start telling him about things like anxiety and depression, because that’s obviously a bit much for a toddler! But since Grayson was old enough to talk, I’ll often say to him “mummy feels happy today” or “mummy feels a bit sad today”.
By doing this, he grasps that adults are very much human and not invincible (I’ve touched on this in a previous post, which can be read here). However, rather than make him worry it makes him aware that even mummy and daddy can have bad days, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
We also talk about the emotions that characters in films or books might be feeling, this is a great tool for teaching them about mental health. We’ll be watching something with Grayson and he’ll go “oh no they’re really sad” and we’ll ask him to explain why he thinks that.
We are also very much the type of parents that encourage him to cry. We don’t want him to grow up feeling he is unable to cry, because he’s a boy or whatever reasons other people might throw in his direction. He will come to me crying, and although it might be something trivial, I’ll give him a cuddle and say “that must have made you feel sad, have a little cry if you want and let me know when you’re done” and then he’s fine in a few minutes.
But by doing this, rather than shutting down his feelings, he knows that it’s completely justifiable to feel that way. He also knows he can come to mummy and daddy for any problems, and that we won’t judge him.
He’s a child that feels things very deeply, and so rather than shy away from that we want to embrace it and make him know how special it makes him.
By beginning to make him aware of emotions from a young age, I hope it will encourage him to reach out in the future if he is struggling. Especially when he’s a teenager.
I found my teen years incredibly difficult, which I now know was due to underlying mental health issues. It was always put down to puberty and hormones, which obviously didn’t help, but there’s was definitely more to it that wasn’t picked up. I know a lot of teenagers that were in similar positions.
I don’t ever want Grayson to feel that he can’t come to me and say “mum, I’m really really struggling right now”. For me that is one of the most important parts of my relationship with him, I want him to know he can trust me with anything.
Obviously sometimes this can backfire, because if Grayson gets in trouble for something he’ll go “MUMMY, you’ve made me feel really sad because you told me off”. Which I have to acknowledge, but it’s usually a case of coming back with “well you’re making mummy sad by not listening to me”.
Humans are flawed, and there is no such thing as a perfect parent. I think by trying to better yourself for the sake of your children (and yourself!) is a wonderful thing to do. It also means that hopefully the next generation will be much more well adjusted!