As discussed in a previous post, one particularly misunderstood group of young people are those living with mental health conditions. Mental…
As discussed in a previous post, one particularly misunderstood group of young people are those living with mental health conditions. Mental illnesses such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression are often mistaken – and very simply so – for angry, combative or rude behaviors.
If and when parents begin noticing uncharacteristic behaviors in their children, the best way to help is to talk about what’s going on (as painful as it can be) and to seek guidance from a licensed health professional immediately.
Being a parent isn’t easy, and it can feel particularly overwhelming when a child suffers from a mental illness. Parents should invest the time to watch how the children in their life are responding to the physical and emotional effects associated with their illness, and regularly ask how their day was and how they are feeling. It will open up the lines of communications and let the children know their parents are available to listen when they are having a problem, as well as when things are going well.
When parents are having serious conversations with children, it is important to remember to use three active listening tools to explore the child’s feelings:
- Open-ended questions
- Closed-ended questions, and
- Paraphrasing and clarifying statements
Closed-ended questions are used to gather facts; for example, “Who was there?” or “When did this happen?”
Open-ended questions are used to get a narrative response, such as, “Can you tell me about how you are feeling?”
Paraphrasing can be used to make sure you understand what your child is saying, such as, “I understand that you are tired and don’t feel like going to school today.”
(For a full list of parenting tips, download our TIPS_FOR_PARENTS.)
For parents whose children are not willing to talk to them about their situation, it may be helpful to remind kids that there are other people they can talk to, such as counselors, physicians, psychiatrists and teachers.
Most importantly, if a child ever expresses a desire to run away from home, it is imperative to make information for valuable resources easily accessible so they can find safe options while on the street, such as those made available through the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY and 1800RUNAWAY.org.
Resources for parents and caregivers of youth suffering from a mental illness are made available through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Please visit the NAMI website for more information.