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Everyday Strong: Giving children the space to talk about their mental health

By Samaria Gonzalez - United Way of Utah County | Feb 26, 2022

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

Aaron Franco, 6, looks to his mother, Claudia, both of Springville, as he reads a book next to Wynston, a therapy dog, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017 at the Springville Public Library.

As parents, one of our greatest desires is for our children to be healthy and happy. This week on our podcast, Dr. Dana Munn discussed different ways parents can help their children feel comfortable enough to talk to their health care providers, as well as their parents, regarding their mental health struggles. One of the most important topics Munn discussed is that nobody should go through this alone — parents or children — even though this is a very sensitive topic that many parents may not want to tell others.

However, as parents reach out to others, they will feel a greater sense of support from friends, family and loved ones. Munn goes into further detail that parents need support just as much as the children facing depression and anxiety.

When parents and children go to meet a primary care physician or pediatrician to address the mental illnesses the child may be experiencing, one important tip that Munn gave is to allow silence to take place in the conversation. Silence has been shown to provide psychological safety for the child.

Rather than rushing in when there is a moment of quiet, the parent should allow the awkwardness to linger so the child can ponder the questions. The child is given the opportunity to think about their answers and feel a greater sense of urgency to speak and explain what they are experiencing. When parents rush to fill in those gaps, it takes the opportunity for the child to feel more compelled to speak freely.

This is an important piece of advice that would benefit not only the child and the parent but also the doctor to be able to gather the perspective of the issue from the child, not just the parent. We need to include all good and bad aspects of our child’s progress. We cannot only include the bad things because it does not give the physician full context of the child.

We need to demonstrate patience and slowness in these conversations. We must dedicate our time to making sure our child feels comfortable and that we are not rushing them into conversations that they are not ready for.

As important as it is to care for our children and their anxiety and/or depression, it is also important for them to enjoy their childhood. Their entire childhood should not be based on their mental illness diagnosis, but they should be able to have fun, especially with their parents. Everything in their life should not revolve around mental health, that way you can avoid the attention always being placed on something out of their control.

Their children need to know that their parents are there for them and will always be. Even if parents do not understand the struggles that their children face, they still need to acknowledge them. Children’s feelings need to be validated. Children cannot go through these struggles on their own.

They need to have someone to help them, and parents offer support that is incomparable to anyone else. They are constantly facing anxiety and depression and it is only becoming more prominent around the world. When parents are there for their children, they can thrive and become more resilient! Thank you to our sponsor, Revere Health @reverehealth, for making this podcast possible!

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