I've recently been putting together my keynote speech for the Exhale Mental Health Showcase in Manchester next weekend (January 21st, 2018). My speech is titled How to Talk to Children about Mental Health, and Why You Should... I'm sharing the tips and useful phrases I will share at the event, in this blog.
With our awareness of mental health growing, fast, and the services that support mental health difficulties having long waiting lists or closing down; I'm encouraging everyone, to have the confidence to talk about mental health, by sharing my knowledge and experience.
I totally understand that it can feel scary, but if you have a good relationship with a young person, it's your relationship that has the power. Really!
You don't have to say the 'right thing' to make a difference - you just have to be willing to listen and understand (as best you can). This is definitely where my favourite saying comes into play:
Top 5 Tips:
Listen - no matter how big or small, important or insignificant you think their problem, thought or feeling is; stop what you're doing, look at them and listen. Nod your head, show them that you're following what they're saying - everything you want when you're speaking about something important to you...give it to them.
Hear them - don't try and make it sound different or smaller, don't tell them it's because they're young or that they'll look back at this when they're older and wonder what the fuss was about. Let them own it.
Feed back what you've heard - when someone repeats our own experience in their own words, it shows that they understand us and it shows your confidence as the listener.
Ask what you could do to help - this can feel like a tough one; sometime what they want, doesn't always seem like the best thing for them. If you think like this, let them know that you'll think about it and create some space, don't try to negotiate straight away (unless it's a child protection issue) as speaking to you in the first place may be all they're capable of.
Follow it up - but not with expectation. I know we desperately want them to move away from distress or worry, but we can't take control of this. Just be there.
With any type of intense situation, I always find it useful to have some go-to phrases; here are a few that will get you thinking along the right tracks...
It's OK to feel like that
It's OK not to feel OK
I can understand why you would feel like that
That/it sounds tough/hard/exhausting/up-setting
I don't have the answers, but I'll do my best to find them with you
You're bound to have a reaction to what you're hearing; my advice is; be aware of it and then reach out to someone else if you need help with it. The temptation can be to put it back onto the child, often out of awareness. We might do this by minimising what they're saying, telling them not to worry or perhaps by not giving it the attention it needs when it's being told.
There are a few free activities to print if you have young children, here's one that may interest you; Self-Esteem Mirror.
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