Children have stress too and as parents, we can’t dismiss it just because they are children. Their stress comes in all sizes from anxiety about a test, to a bully at school and they may never tell you what they are going through. It’s all valid life stress, which teaches children coping skills. But what happens when the stress becomes too much and it affects your child’s mental health? What is a parent to do?
One of the first steps is to listen to your child. Melissa Ifill, who is a coach and a licensed clinical social worker, suggests active listening. “Eye contact, asking follow up questions about how they feel and reframing what you hear, allows children to feel their own emotions and gives them tools to express themselves. Expression, even without resolution, can be so helpful and supportive,” said Ifill.
Engage your child in daily conversation. Children won’t always come to you first for help. As a parent, you have to reach out to your child and be ready for any difficult conversations. Help them to problem solve some of their issues. Don’t react with recoil, and be aware of your body language when talking to your child because they really are paying attention. You want them to feel safe coming to you for help.
Ifill recommends dealing with your own emotions as well. “It is okay to explain to your child that you are scared, hurt or worried. As long as you can express it in a calm way, model appropriate techniques or cope and still support them, it is a healthy display of what emotions look like and how to deal with them,” said Ifill.
Advocate for your children. You know your them best. If your child is stressed about an incident whether in their neighborhood or at school, it is your job to protect him or her. “Partner with the school around sharing information, effective problem solving and advancing complaints to the district level and school board, if needed for results,” said Ifill. There will be times that you are your child’s bodyguard, detective, and mediator.
Not allowing your child to be his or her authentic-self can cause a lot of internal stress. Trying to mold a child to be what they are not, weighs on them. “Culturally, children are often expected to be seen and not heard. Parents often have strong expectations for who their children should be, and major consequences for children who do not fall in line,” said Ifill. “ For children who are being bullied or experiencing challenges with mood, this perspective can be most damaging. Being ostracized at school and then going home to an environment which provides limited support can feel hopeless. Give them the tools to be expressive. Doing so shows compassion for who they are as individuals while keeping structure. These tools will help provide them opportunities for growth. View missteps as lessons. This will also promote positive parent-child relationships, which can increase communication and opportunities to support your child.”
We all need support and that includes your children. If talking to you and others is not helping them, start at the school level for help. Also, your health insurance will have provisions for mental health care. Call the number on the back of your insurance card for help with finding a provider. If you don’t have health insurance, Janika Joyner, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Elevation Counseling Services, LLC. recommends trying OpenPathCollective.org. It is a website where your child can get affordable therapy from mental health professionals for $30-$60 per session. She also recommends TherapyForBlackGirls.com and TherapyForBlackMen.org to find a Black therapist who understands the stresses that our children are feeling.