At The Wise Family, we spend a lot of time talking about talking. We use a specialized approach to our work, and the teaching that we do around communication called – W.I.S.E. Words. We’re going to write more next week about the W.I.S.E. approach, and for now we want to share our TEAM insights and strategies (hint hint – that’s the “I” and “S” in W.I.S.E.) into how to talk to kids and teens about mental health, and about the importance of talking with someone else when you need support! Here’s what our super-wise clinicians have to say –
“Mental health” sounds like such an adult topic, but it actually starts in infancy! No, a 3-month-old can’t verbalize that they often feel sad or scared, or that they feel so frustrated about not reaching that shiny toy that they just want to scream. But from the earliest of ages, we all experience emotions, and we learn how to manage them from cues that other people we know and trust give us. Giving voice to those feelings by calmly labeling what you see shows kids that you understand what they’re going through, that you’re there for them even when they feel bad, and that using language can actually make difficult emotions easier to manage. Making feelings just one more thing that you can talk about in your family (even before they can actually talk!) sets the stage for a healthier and more resilient future.
In my work with schools, children, and families, I have come across a common misconception that talking about mental health challenges makes them worse. This is actually the opposite of what happens. The more we can talk about topics that appear “taboo” and make them non-threatening, the more confidently we will be able to address these challenges. Mental health challenges are not something to be ashamed of. Instead, they can be acknowledged, explored, and supported in a pro-active manner.
There is such a stigma attached with mental health that it’s often difficult to talk about and when there are children involved it seems to get even harder. Many parents are apprehensive talking about their child’s mental health because they may be concerned they are admitting that something is wrong. There is also the fear they have made a mistake somewhere along the road or that it reflects on their parenting. These common misinterpretations often steer parents away from seeking support for their children. Talking about your child’s mental health is a good thing and a starting place to allow the child to learn about and feel comfortable with the challenges they may be having.
In my work with families, adolescents, and young adults there is an inherent stigma and fear associated with mental illness. Adolescents and young adults often have a self-image that they have to maintain. Through continued media exposure and education, adolescents and young adults find the courage and strength to share about their experience with mental illness. The individuals that open up to others have found the experience to be healing and empowering. My clients have shared they feel closer with those they shared with and learned that mental illness often has touched those close to them which normalizes their experiences and allows for unexpected support.
Until next week, Be Wise!
“Dr. Amy is like Oprah – she’s the neighbor you love who is very, very smart”— Parent of 14-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter
“Supporting the mental health of the kids and teens in our community is one of the most challenging and also one of the most important jobs anyone could have. And I see your team doing it with both skill and enthusiasm.Our family could not be more fortunate to have found your practice 3 years ago.
Our kids are growing up but we still keep your number on our phone and we know we can reach out to your team if we need it. We tell everyone who asks about the WISE people at The Wise Family.
Thank you for doing what you do for so many people.”—from the parent of two former clients (siblings)— Parent of two former clients (siblings)
“Oh my gosh, my daughter just thinks Grace is amazing and I am so glad that she has someone to talk to that isn’t me! She is so happy after her sessions! Thank you.”— Mom of 15 year old client
“Dr. Amy brings together the best emotion-focused strategies with cutting-edge brain science to change the lives of children and families”— Parent of adopted twin girls