CHICAGO (WLS) -- In October, pediatricians declared children's mental health a national emergency. Data show that suicide and ER mental health visits are up in the past three years, and teenagers are most at risk.
Kristen Denzeris is the CEO and founder of Tierra Encantada, a Minnesota pre-school that is a leader in Spanish Immersion Early Education.
Denzer said it's important to have conversations with children early to combat the negative stigma related to mental health. Starting those conversations can be a challenge, at first, but Denzer said there are four main things parents can do to help their children feel safe talking about their emotions:
Normalize valuing mental health
Talk about emotions and how you are feeling with your children from a young age. Saying things like "I feel sad because I forgot to call grandma on her birthday" helps normalize emotions and communicating about them, especially if you communicate about what you did to feel better. So, saying "I felt like a bad daughter but I called grandma and apologized, and she didn't mind at all and shared how much she loved the photo I sent. I felt so much better after talking to her!" shows you feeling an emotion and how you made yourself feel better about the situation. If your child is frustrated, make it OK that they take a break and step away.
Create an environment of trust, acceptance and communication
Be someone your child can talk to. Try to hold back judgement when your child confides in you, even if you are disappointed with what they are sharing. Lead with questions, for example if your child shares, "I was the one that broke the photo frame" responding with, "Thank you for sharing that with me. How did that happen?" is much better than, "How could you!" If your child feels they can talk to you without judgement, they are much more likely to let you in when they are suffering or struggling. And ask the hard questions. If your child's behavior changes and they appear depressed, ask if they have had thoughts of hurting themselves. Talking about suicide does not cause suicide, but their feeling misunderstood and alone may.
Be an advocate for your child
If something is wrong, ask. If your child doesn't open up to you, find someone to whom they will, a family member, a school counselor, a friend -- if you do not know the issue, it is hard to help them. If you know something is wrong, do something about it. Every child is different, and every situation is different. If a child is being bullied, then talk to the school and/or bullies' parents. If your child is struggling in school and their teacher shares they think there is something more going on, take them to a psychologist to get to the root of the problem.
Provide the best possible environment.
There is a reason people like Bill Gates avoided technology for their children. Limit screen time and encourage face-to-face human interaction. Avoid social media as long as possible. Incorporate books at every age that discusses different issues a child might encounter such as bullying or inappropriate touching.
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For more mental health resources, visit tierraencantada.com.
Tierra Encantada is accepting enrollments for a new corporate Chicago location near Six Corners in Old Irving Park. Its doors will open in February.