Over the last several years, the conversation around mental health and well-being has become much more prevalent online, in the media, and in schools and workplaces throughout the country. While this progress is long overdue and helps to dismantle the stigma around mental health issues, for kids, learning how to manage and respond to life’s challenges starts at home.
No one is more aware of how important it is to discuss mental health issues with children than writer and mom of three Harmony Hobbs. Harmony runs the blog Modern Mommy Madness, and on April 20, she posted on her Facebook page a message about mental health and parenting that has resonated with thousands.
In her open post, Harmony discusses how important it is for parents to share their struggles with their kids in order to demystify and reduce the shame around "intrusive thoughts" and issues like depression and anxiety.
Harmony tells LoveToKnow that for some parents, hiding their struggles with mental health stems from a misplaced urge to protect their children. For others, it comes down to never learning the skills themselves to discuss their issues openly.
"Some people haven’t learned how to manage their own emotions, so they’re unable to teach their children, and it just perpetuates a cycle of dysfunction," Harmony tells LoveToKnow. "What would happen if all parents collectively took responsibility for our own mental health? What if we were able to model emotional wellness for our kids?"
Harmony explains that in order to help our kids when they’re experiencing big emotions, we need to stop, listen, and "sit in that discomfort." She urges parents not to shut down the conversation even if it makes them uncomfortable.
"Our job is not to dictate who or what our children are, or to critique the way their brains operate," she says. "Our job as parents is to listen and provide support, which is only truly possible when communication is open."
As a parent, it’s not easy to see our kids struggle with anything – let alone their mental health. It can feel instinctual to try to "fix" them instead of listening and sharing our own experiences. But while it can feel uncomfortable to open up about our own difficulties, doing so helps build trust with our children. It not only shows them that they’re not alone in how they are feeling, but that feeling sad at times in life is normal.
The truth is, life isn’t perfect and people don’t feel happy all the time (nor should we). If children can see the people they love and look up to the most grapple with and overcome their own intrusive thoughts, it teaches them invaluable coping skills they can take with them for years to come.
Parenting isn’t easy, and it’s difficult to always know the "right" way to respond to our children’s experiences and questions, especially when they are struggling. Being honest and transparent provides the space our kids need to understand their own narratives and gain the tools they need to deal with emotions – big and small – throughout their lives.