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This month, I am pleased to welcome Julie Cipes, LPC as my guest blogger. She offers practical and useful information for dealing with kids and their feelings!

In light of the school shooting epidemic that is plaguing our nation, one topic that has come to surface is the connection between mental health and access to firearms.  What many people are unaware of is that many mental health statistics are based upon individuals who have chosen to seek treatment or been forced to due to their severity of symptoms or circumstance.  These statistics are not taking into consideration the large number of children, adolescents and adults who are undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated.  There needs to be a much larger push on getting mental health professionals into schools to assess the emotional wellbeing of our children and teach about topics like emotional identification, adaptive coping and self-concept.

One of the most helpful actions we can take to ensure our safety and the safety of those around us is defining mental health and finding ways to impart this knowledge to others. Below are some tips parents and educators can use to explain mental health to children and put theory into practice:

  • Start the conversation with the topic of mental health and not mental illness.  Mental health is the same as emotional health.  Mental health is how accurately you are able to identify your emotions and how adaptively you are able to cope with undesirable feelings.  Ask your child how they know they are having a strong emotion and how they deal with these feelings. If you find your child does not have many strategies for coping with strong feelings, develop a list of coping tools with your child.  Be sure to hang this list in a visible location within your home so your young one can easily access these tools when necessary or appropriate.  Practice these coping strategies with your child as a proactive measure and practice them on your own too to show your youngster that mental health is important for everyone, not just children.
  • Let your child know that mental health is just as important as physical health.  Likening mental health to physical health teaches your child that mental illness is not something negative or necessarily under one’s control.  Just like we develop stomach aches, headaches, and rashes, our emotions can get out of whack too. We wouldn’t hesitate to ask a doctor or a nurse for help with a physical ailment, so why wait to ask a mental health professional for help with an emotional ailment?
  • Explain to your child the connection between somatic symptoms and emotional fluctuations.  It is very common for emotional needs to manifest through physical symptoms. Before calling your family doctor for help with a stomach ache, ask your child if there is anything he/she has felt nervous or upset about lately.  Encourage your young one to participate in emotional check-ins throughout the day by paying attention to his/her body and feelings.  It can be challenging to tell the difference between a stomach ache that is the result of a physical imbalance and a stomach ache that is the result of anxiety.  Emotional check-ins and focused attention to bodily clues can be an effective way to provide emotional support as opposed to medical intervention when the former is indicated.
  • Broaden your child’s emotional vocabulary.  Teach your child that there are different words for different feelings.  While anger is what your child may feel, fear or anxiety may be at the root of this emotion.  It is not very helpful to think you are angry when you are really worried. Introduce new feeling words to your child each day and try to make the practice of emotional identification a fun one:
    • Purchase a mood flipchart as a means of discussing various feelings and pick a different feeling each day to explore.
    • Encourage your child to name five facts and five feelings from their day.
    • Ask your child to share the “peak” of their day and the “pit” of their day, connecting each event with an emotion.

There are many ways to talk with your children about mental health.  Be sure that you are the one imparting information about this topic before your young one learns misinformation from social media or unassuming sources.

Here is a great book to start with: Gizmo’s Pawesome Guide to Mental Health http://www.gizmo4mentalhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/GizmoPawesome.pdf

 © 2018 Julie Cipes, LPC. Julie is a Licensed Professional Counselor, School Counselor and Psychotherapist.  She specializes in therapeutic work with children, adolescents and young adults in the areas of emotional regulation, anxiety, anger management, self-esteem and changing families.  She is in private practice in Farmington, CT.  She can be reached at JulieCipesLPC@gmail.com.

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One Comment

  1. Chip Mues on the 07. Apr, 2018 remarked #

    Excellent points Julie! Well said! I hope you post other guest blogs with Donna. I look forward to reading them.

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