Should I talk to my 6 year old about mental health issues?

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Answered by: Karri, An Expert in the Parenting Issues Category
Sometimes I sit and stare at my daughters, wondering what they are thinking, are they happy? Are there any ill feelings swimming around in their heads? Are they looking at life with the glass is half full philosophy? Or half empty? Then I give myself a shake back to reality and realize they are only 6 years old!! Why am I so worried??? Well wouldn't you know, as parents and caregivers, this is an appropriate time to worry. It is absolutely appropriate to be aware of your school-aged child's mental health. Scrapes and bumps are easy to fix with bandages and kisses, but mental health is an entire different deck of UNO cards. As parents we strive to do everything textbook perfect, (beach side trips over March break, volunteering at the schools bake sale, enrollment in after school activities, and hosting a hundred play dates), in hopes they will foster healthy bodies and healthy minds now and forever.

We all know this is not the always the case. Children brought up in the most suitable nurturing environments are not immune to the troubles that lurk in the corners waiting to pounce on their unsuspecting soles. These broad spectrum mental health issues, both clinical and non-clinical in nature are often triggered by some life altering or life defining event and often go unnoticed and undetected until the issue has multiplied within like a new strain virus. So when do we approach the subject? Is there a Myers- Briggs test that will give us peace of mind? Or perhaps a Princeton Review sample test that indicates the perfect time to embrace the subject of mental health? Well, there isn’t, I’ve searched google.

If we as parents and caregivers choose to talk to our 6 year old's about mental health in terms of how the brain functions as a unit much like the rest of our biological systems, would they not have a better understanding of the inter-working's of our cerebral cortex and how the our neurotransmitters function? Which could lead them to understand how we can train our brains to react positively to stimuli? It may be this type of self-awareness that could have a sizable impact on the prevention of mental health illness... maybe?

If we choose to educate our young children about mental health just as we educate them in anatomy or biology would they not be more suited to recognize mental health issues from within themselves and from within their peer groups? If we clear the confusion and bring forth awareness within these school aged children would we not eliminate a portion of the distress brought forth from the unknown? Is it not better to know why you are feeling sad, angry, anxious or awkward? Is it not beneficial for a 6 year old to know that others feel the same way, that they are not alone or “abnormal”?

Through communication with our young children about mental health, we can provide them with a healthy framework for understanding mental health in hopes they will learn to recognize problematic behaviors at school among friends and peers, and within their communities by large. As example, I’ve been privy to a lock down at my daughters’ school due to a “suspicious person” in the neighborhood. The kids are hidden in their classrooms, locked doors and closed windows. Do they know why? Should they know why? What does a suspicious person mean to them? I’m thinking “yes” they should know why. The answers should come honestly and freely explaining that there is a person who may cause harm not because people are inherently evil but that the person is suffering from some sort of mental health issue and needs medical attention. People are not inherently evil. Just like a broken bones needs medical attention, the “suspicious person” may need medical attention to feel and thus behave “normal”. I described to my daughters as medical intervention for the brain. For the many children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), do we simply just pop them the pill, no need to explain, just tell them to take it, crush in into their morning cereal? Of course not, they deserve an explanation.

For myself, as a mother of 2 young children, my choice is clear as day, I will educate my children at a young age in terms of mental health awareness. What it means, how it impacts individuals and others, and how as a parent, friend and society as a whole we can assist in the promotion of good mental health. Education through communication. It's always a good time to talk!

Karri Efston

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