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How I Explain Mental Illness to My Child

January 6, 2021 Sarah Sharp

My son is now old enough that he overhears conversations I have with his dad about his attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and he has questions. Explaining mental illness to my child feels like a balancing act. I want to be honest with him, but I want him to feel proud of himself, too. How do I go about making that happen?

First and foremost, I try to keep in mind my two most important priorities in life: teaching and loving my child. Explaining mental illness to my child isn't only a balancing act. It's an open conversation between a student and teacher who love each other. Here's how that conversation goes.

When I Explain Mental Illness to My Child, I Let Him Take the Lead

When I explain mental illness to my child, he's usually the one to start the conversation. He's asked me what ADHD is, and one day he calmly explained that he wants to keep all his toys because he hoards. Comments like these are open doors for me to teach him more.

Sometimes he's the one to finish the conversation, too. If he says he doesn't want to talk anymore, or if I sense any discomfort in him, I stop explaining mental illness to my child. He knows what he wants to know, and he isn't afraid to let me know. All I have to do is listen.

Explaining Mental Illness to My Child Requires Compassion

After I explain mental illness to my child, I want him to feel good about himself. I want him to know that being different doesn't mean you're less than. It just means you're your own person. I think he gets it, too. Recently he said to me, "My brain just works differently, right?"

That was one moment I sincerely felt like I'd done something right with my kid.

My husband has ADHD, too, an interesting fact that I like to include when I explain mental illness to my child. I normalize my son's condition. It helps him feel not so different, like ADHD is no big deal. Daddy's brain works differently, too, and that's something to feel proud of.

I Keep It Simple When I Explain Mental Illness to My Child

My son is still very young, so I keep our conversations about mental health simple, using words and ideas he understands. I stick to the basics: "You learn differently, at your own pace." "You think differently." "You have a hard time listening sometimes because of your ADHD. You don't do it on purpose--at least most of the time."

Our conversations will mature as my son matures. Until then, I'll continue to repeat one simple message: "You're different, and I love you for that."

How do you explain mental illness to your child? Share in the comments.

APA Reference
Sharp, S. (2021, January 6). How I Explain Mental Illness to My Child, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2021/1/how-i-explain-mental-illness-to-my-child



Author: Sarah Sharp

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