Discussing mental health topics with your kids can feel intimidating. Honestly, plenty of adults are challenged by the topic, so explaining a concept like depression in kid-friendly terms can be difficult. Thankfully, there are plenty of children’s books about depression to make the conversation easier, and many child psychologists recommend using books as a way to start this conversation.
When To Discuss Mental Health Issues With Children
For the most part, it’s never too early to start the discussion about mental health care. “Parents can discuss mental health information with their kids at any age, but the way we explain and teach about it will vary by age,” Dr. Amy Nasamran, licensed child psychologist and founder of Atlas Psychology, tells Romper in an email. “It's important to explain things in age-appropriate language and consider where kids are at in their own emotional learning.” For instance, children who are preschool age will understand emotions in broad strokes (happy, sad, or afraid), while elementary-aged children can start to understand more nuanced feelings such as anxiety or depression, as Dr. Nasamran further explains. In addition, starting the conversation about depression and other mental health topics won’t cause your kid to “catch” them. “Talking about mental health issues like anxiety or depression won't cause your child to develop these conditions,” says Dr. Nasamran. “Instead, having open conversations about mental health can teach children healthy coping skills, better emotion recognition, and self-awareness.” In fact, opening this dialogue about mental health early on can help your child throughout life. “It is never too young to start teaching children coping skills! Starting them young, in this regard, can be preventative in terms of decreasing the risk for the development of certain mental health challenges including symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Dr. Toya Robertson-Moore, M.D., Associate Medical Director with Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center, tells Romper.
How Books Can Help
With this in mind, children’s books can be a great resource when you start exploring mental health topics. “Books are excellent tools for introducing mental health concepts. Using characters mitigates the weight of responsibility in the child and parent to explain or justify their reactions,” Dr. Tanye’ S. Tyler, DSW, MBA, LSW, Chief Strategy and Innovations Officer at A New Day Mental Wellness Center, tells Romper. It’s a natural way to start exploring these concepts. “While reading with their children, a daily recommended task, parents can include references to the character’s behaviors and ask the child, ‘what do you think this character was feeling?’ or ‘how would you feel if this happened to you?’” says Dr. Tyler. It’s one of the many benefits of reading with your kid, which can also build a stronger parent-child bond and develop your child’s vocabulary. Plus, the books meet kids where they are. “Reading books can help engage kids at their level. Most kids’ books already use age-appropriate language and words that make it easier for kids to grasp,” says Dr. Nasamran.
Also, it’s important to give yourself a break as a caregiver when bringing up this (sometimes difficult) topic. Maybe you’re helping the child understand their own diagnosis, or explaining why a family member with depression may not want to play with them. “I wish more parents knew that if their child has a mental illness or diagnosis that it is not their fault (even if it is hereditary) and that it does not mean that they are a bad parent,” as Janika Joyner, LCSW, CCTP, Higher Elevation Psychosocial Services, LLC, tells Romper in an email. Rather, addressing these topics in a kid-friendly way can help your child understand their own feelings, as well as the behaviors of others. With this in mind, here are some children’s books about depression that help bring light to the condition.
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