Preparing a Mentally Ill Child For Life Change

April 8, 2014 Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Parenting a mentally ill child is not easy, but it becomes more challenging when major life changes happen. Your child may overreact to small changes and much more so over big ones. Major life changes can include switching schools, moving or having a new sibling. How you present major life changes can drastically improve your child’s reaction to it. Here are some tips below to help you prepare a mentally ill child for a life change.

Think About What you’re Going to Say

When introducing a major life change, you need to think about what you’re going to say. When I was able to accept Bob’s mental illness diagnosis, I had to think about how to explain it to him so that he could understand. Think about the goal of the conversation, which isn’t only to let your child know about change, but also to have your child understand the reason behind it.

Preparing a mentally ill child for a major life change can be hard. Read these tips on how to talk to your mentally ill child about life changes positively.

Pick the Right Time to Talk about the Life Change

I cannot stress this enough. Timing is important. I’ve worked with many parents who simply did not understand the concept of timing. And because of that lack of understanding, their children would respond in a negative way. Don’t pick a stressful time, such as test-taking time or the morning rush. Choose a time when your child is calm and relaxed – ideally over the weekend if possible. Timing is everything and for a mentally ill child, it is very important.

Prepare a Mentally Ill Child for a Life Change Gently

When presenting a major life change, be gentle with your words. Tell your child how much you love him or her and why you wanted to take this special time to talk. I let Bob know that I loved him very much and that everything I did was for his benefit. Then I let him know about his diagnosis. I explained what attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was and gave him examples of how it affected him. Then I took the next step.

Invite Your Child to Ask Questions about the Life Change

Be prepared for any number of questions. Usually “why?” comes up during these talks. Bob had many questions about ADHD and because of my experience in the field, I was able to respond well. If you’re confused about how to respond to your child’s questions, do research ahead of time about the life change and have it ready for your talk.

Expect Any Number of Feelings from the Mentally Ill Child

Your child may react in any number of ways. Bob was angry and asked why this happened to him. Your child may even surprise you by not reacting in the moment, but later on having a tantrum, or even taking the news quite well. There’s no way to know how your child will respond. Only you know how your child will react. Just be prepared to provide support and love.

Keep the Conversation Going

Don’t end the conversation there. Keep it going by letting your child know that he or she can come to you with any thoughts or questions about the major life change. It has been over three years since his diagnosis, but Bob and I continue to talk about his ADHD and how it affects him.

Major life changes can hit anyone hard, especially a mentally ill child. But, if you take the time to prepare yourself, doing the same for your child will be easier. And the response you get may surprise you in a good way.

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APA Reference
Zalamar, H. (2014, April 8). Preparing a Mentally Ill Child For Life Change, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 from

Author: Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

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