I have a few kids under my wing who have never ended a sentence in a period. Very rarely do they ever make a statement, most of their speech is a question.
Why do giraffes have long necks?
What’s for dinner?
Why are there waves in the ocean?
Why can’t boys have a baby in their tummy?
What would happen if I poked this wasp nest with a stick?
What’s for snack?
If I tie feathers to my arms can I fly?
Why do I laugh when you touch my ribs?
Why do we have to die?
What’s for dinner?
Some questions are easy. Some questions require secretly looking at Google. Then there are some questions that are gut wrenching “I don’t want to answer this” hard and the answer will undoubtedly spawn about 20 more hard questions. Technically it is never a hard question, it’s a regular question with a hard answer.
I wrote the other day about talking to my kids about death and mental illness. That’s some of the hard stuff. “How do I balance all this hard stuff with an easy answer?” “How do I discuss mental illness with children?” “Can’t I just candy coat this with age appropriate vagueness and move onto the long necked giraffes?”
I ask you…how will we ever create a change in mental health awareness if we don’t start talking about it in a raw, uncoated form?
How can we create a generation who is not afraid of saying “I need help because my mind is sad, mad or out of control!”
First we recognize that our minds are just as susceptible as the rest of our bodies to get ill. We teach that mental and physical illness are similar in that they can affect anyone of any age, gender, race or religion. Just as with a heart condition, we can’t heal it until we treat it and all the positive thinking in the world does not qualify as medicine. Saying “you’ll get over it,” “you should pray about it” or “snap yourself out of it” is not constructive or possible some times.
Secondly, we teach that emotions and expressions of all emotions is healthy. We don’t merely “shake it off” or “don’t feel that way.” We are entitled to feel happy, sad, mad and confused. When we feel those things, we express them. We learn the limitations of actions and reactions based on our interactions. If we never allow our kids to get downright sad or angry about life, how are we teaching them coping skills for when this happens in adult life?
Lastly, we answer the hard questions with pure honesty. If we don’t know the answer because the senseless isn’t making sense, we never say “well, just because” or “that’s life.” We acknowledge that we don’t know the answer and we involve each other as we find a solution to coping with no real answer. We answer those hard questions because we know that knowledge will always chase away fear. We answer because we don’t ever want a child growing up with a fear of asking a question. We answer because we are showing a generation that we will meet them in between the question and the answer.
“Why do I feel scared?” – I don’t know, but I will help you find out and beat this fear in the kneecaps.
“Why do I feel mad for no reason?” – You have a reason that is valid, so let’s figure this out together.
“Why do I feel sad all the time?” – I’m not sure, but I am listening to you. Let’s talk about this.
We are trusted with the easy questions about what is for lunch, let’s prove to them that they can trust us with the hard questions, because we will show them that we are going to meet them somewhere in between the question and the hard answer. The more they see us fighting for truthful answers, the more likely they are to become adults and never be ashamed to ask for help.
Categories: june 2013 diary entry
Yes. I don’t like exposing my son to my mental illness in ALL of its forms, but sometimes I can’t postpone a reaction until after he goes to bed, and I have to tell him, “Sometimes Mommy gets sad, and sometimes there’s no reason for it. It’s not your fault that I’m sad, and I’m sorry if I said anything that hurt your feelings.”
We both have Asperger’s Syndrome, too, so I try to talk with him openly about how sometimes our brains work differently than other people’s brains, and sometimes we have to try harder to understand why we do, say, or feel different things.
It’s very hard to find the balance of what’s an appropriate level of information with a 7 year old, because my own tendency toward oversharing is something that I don’t want to have become a burden for him. It’s my job to take care of him, not his job to take care of me.
I agree with you and love that you brought up the over sharing aspect. It is a fine line to walk with young kids.
It’s kind of similar in the rationale behind “we don’t have the money for that extra toy” or telling them “I don’t know how we are going to put food on the table or make our mortgage payment next month.” It’s the same information, but one informs while the other burdens a young mind.
While honesty and communication about mental illness needs to be happening, we should also tailor what we share to each child.
One of my kids has Aspergers and we have discussed how her beautiful mind just thinks differently. When we approached the topic of mental illness being behind her day’s suicide, she was concerned that her Aspergers was comparable to his mental health. She was scared she would follow in his footsteps since they both had a mental health type issue.
We had some of those hard answers, but tailoring it to her, we made it through it and with her knowledge she was able to put the fear behind her.
Thank you for your comment and for sharing!