Inside: To protect our kids, we have to have these essential mental health conversations with our kids right now.
I just found out that another high schooler in my town died by suicide.
I just found out that a middle schooler in my town was beaten up on a bus and instead of helping, other students filmed it happening.
I just found out that a 10-year-old being bullied at school died by suicide.
And as a parent, I want to both curl into a ball and cry and scream with anger and protect my babies and protect all the babies in the land.
My family is no stranger to bullying and suicide.
My daughter was heavily bullied, both physically and emotionally when she was 10 years old. I was cyberbullied, called every name in the book, and was told my son should just die. My son has been bullied by “friends.”
And this past year, a childhood friend of mine died by suicide.
The mental health and well-being of my kids is at the forefront of my mind, especially now that we’re in teenager land and they’re confronted with pressure about college and peer pressure from friends about sex, drugs, and alcohol.
So the other day, I pulled my high schooler in the car with me so we could have a private, frank, and essential conversation.
We’ve had it before, but in light of what’s happening around us, we had to have it again.
And if just a few more parents have these essential mental conversations with their kids too, it will make a difference.
These conversations will keep your kids safer and will ensure your kids feel safer too.
The Essential Mental Health Conversations You Need to Have with Your Kids Right Now
We can’t wait until our kids have sex to have a conversation about safe sex and the possible consequences of sex.
We can’t wait until our kids are around drugs and alcohol before we have a conversation about drunk driving and peer pressure with drugs and alcohol.
So we can’t wait until our kids are bullied, see bullying, or make a debilitating mistake that feels unfixable before we have a conversation about mental health.
You can break this conversation up into chunks or have it all at once (with my high schooler, we had it all at once. With my middle schooler, we broke it up into chunks).
But these mental health conversations must be discussed and discussed often to put our kids’ mental health and safety first.
1. “You are loved and a valuable member of this family.”
We have to tell them all the time and remind them all of the time because even if we love them all of the time, they may not feel loved all of the time.
And for many of our kids, we have to PROVE we love them. We have to remind them often they’re a valued member of our family.
We have to explicitly tell them they are wanted.
Why? So when the bullies attack them verbally and emotionally, they won’t believe it. They will be bully-proofed to the harsh words they will likely hear.
2. “I am proud of you. I’m so grateful you’re my daughter/son.”
If they ask why you’re proud of them, give them a long list. Start with how they’re kind, and thoughtful, and loving, and a hard worker, and determined, and generous, and compassionate. Then you can add in things like smart and talented and gorgeous.
Remind them often that you see them, you like them, and they are valued for who they are.
Why? When the bullies tell them they’re a loser or dumb or worthless, they won’t believe it. They know they are valued and loved for who they are.
3. “There is no mistake you can make that we can’t fix or work on together. Come to me. I am here for you.”
For many people, a mistake can feel embarrassing. It can feel lonely. A mistake can also feel debilitating. And I don’t ever want my kids to think a mistake is something to hurt themselves over.
It’s true that some big mistakes are forever and will affect you forever.
But our kids need to know we will stand by them, help them, support them, and guide them to fix it or get through it.
Why? I don’t ever want our kids to think the only solution is to end their life. Even if a mistake is huge and drastic, it will get better over time with the right kind of support.
4. “It’s okay and normal to have big emotions. You can feel sad, or mad, or scared, or anxious. You can feel more than one thing at the same time.”
To help build our children’s emotional intelligence, we have to remind them often it’s okay and totally normal to have big emotions.
The problems come when we don’t acknowledge our emotions because then it’s inevitable we’ll explode and feel out of control. We remind our kids they can be mad without being mean and without retaliating.
And we let our kids know they can feel sad and have a bad day, but if they’re feeling sad more often than not, and they’re having more bad days than good or okay days, it’s time to get help to regulate those emotions.
And getting help is also totally normal and okay.
Why? I want them to know emotions are normal and nothing to hide. I also want them to know they are still loved even when they’re mad and sad and feeling anxious.
5. “Your mental health is essential to me and mental health conversations are normal. If you’re going through something that feels hard, I can help get you the help you need to make it feel easier.”
I had to remind my daughter that just like I take her to the doctor and the dentist, we can just as easily get her a counselor or therapist to talk about big emotions or big problems, or things that make her feel scared, anxious, or angry.
Mental health is a crucial part of our kids’ overall health.
Why? We have to reduce the stigma of seeing a mental health counselor, therapist, and/or a psychologist. They can be an essential part of our overall health and there is strength in knowing you can get help. Talking to someone isn’t “weak.” These mental health conversations are both normal and critical.
6. “If you see bullying, stand up for them, help them, or get adult help.”
We have this conversation often, but after the student was bullied on our town bus without any other kids standing up or stepping in, we had the conversation again.
It really does take a village to raise a child safely and our kids are part of that village.
If they see bullying, it’s part of their job as a member of their community to do something.
Why? They need to know they can be part of the bullying solution.
7. “If you are bullied, it’s not your fault. People do not get to treat you this way. I will protect you.”
There are four kinds of bullying and all of them have long-lasting, emotional consequences.
One way to help bully-proof our kids is to emotionally protect them when they are bullied so they know the bully’s words aren’t the truth.
They also need to know they can come to you when they are bullied for help and you will go to bat for them until the situation is resolved.
They have to know they have a right to a safe learning environment and you will do everything in your power to make it feel safe for them.
Why? Bullying can be life-altering and have long-lasting negative effects. We have to safeguard their mental health if they are bullied.
Related: Know Your State’s Bullying Laws
8. “If you hear about a friend or classmate who talks about self-harm or suicide that is not a conversation you keep a secret. You have to tell an adult so they get the help they need.”
When our kids hear about a friend who is hurting, they often want to keep the secret if they were told in confidence. So they have to know they’re not tattling or ratting out a friend…they’re getting them the much-needed help they need.
I had to remind my daughter that even if she loses a friend over telling, at least her friend will be safe which will be worth it, even if her friend is mad.
Why? Saving someone’s life is everything. And my kids need to know they have to break their friends’ confidence if it will keep them alive.
And then I hugged my kids. Hard.
Because I needed the hug and even if they didn’t know they needed the hug, they did, too.
Go love on your kids.
And have these mental health conversations, right now.
And then have them over and over again.