How young kids can learn about mental health

How young kids can learn about mental health

To support the well-being of young children, Sesame Workshop announced last year its renewed commitment to helping lay a strong foundation for mental health through its programming. This announcement came after the American Academy of Pediatrics’ mental health emergency declaration, which the Workshop’s spokesperson cites as a major impetus behind additional mental health content creation.

“We at Sesame hold a vision of a world in which all children can flourish and feel the joyfulness of life and do so with appreciation for their own mental health and well-being,” said Workshop President Sherrie Westin.

Some of the offerings include a YouTube special, “Elmo’s Mindfulness Spectacular,” a “Monster Meditation” YouTube series and a PSA with the Ad Council.

“Emphasizing the importance of mental health through educational programming for kids is a great way to raise awareness and destigmatize talking about our feelings and emotions,” says Dr. Rahul Sharma, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Advocate Children’s Hospital. “When discussing mental health with younger children, it’s important to approach the topic with care and sensitivity.”

Dr. Sharma provides parents with the following tips:
  • Create a safe and open environment: Make sure your child feels comfortable and secure when discussing their feelings. Create a safe space where they can freely express themselves without fear of judgment or negative consequences.
  • Use age-appropriate language: Tailor your language and explanations to match your child’s developmental level. Use simple and concrete terms they can understand. Avoid using complex or abstract concepts that may confuse them.
  • Encourage emotional expression: Help your child recognize and express their emotions. Teach them about different feelings and provide them with a vocabulary to express themselves. Encourage them to talk about their emotions and validate their experiences.
  • Be a good listener: Pay attention to your child’s verbal and non-verbal cues. Listen actively and attentively when they share their thoughts or concerns. Avoid interrupting or dismissing their feelings. Show empathy and understanding.
  • Normalize mental health: Explain that everyone experiences a range of emotions and it is normal to feel sad, angry, anxious or overwhelmed sometimes. Normalize the idea that mental health is as important as physical health and that seeking help is a sign of strength.
  • Use relatable examples: Utilize stories, books or characters your child can relate to when discussing mental health. It can help them understand and process difficult emotions. Encourage questions and engage in discussions about the characters’ experiences.
  • Teach coping strategies: Help your child develop healthy coping strategies for managing stress and emotions. Encourage activities like drawing, writing, playing or deep-breathing exercises. Teach them the importance of self-care, such as getting enough sleep, eating well and engaging in activities they enjoy.
  • Lead by example: Be a role model for your child by openly discussing your own emotions and how you take care of your mental health and prioritize your well-being. Show them it’s OK to ask for help when needed.
  • Provide age-appropriate resources: Depending on your child’s age, you can introduce them to books, videos or online resources that discuss mental health in a way they can understand. Ensure the materials are suitable and promote healthy attitudes towards mental health.
  • Seek professional help, if needed: If your child is experiencing persistent or severe mental health issues, it may be beneficial to consult a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and support tailored to your child’s specific needs.

“Remember, every child is unique, and it’s important to adapt your approach to their individual personality and developmental stage,” says Dr. Sharma. “By fostering open communication and a supportive environment, you can help your child develop a healthy understanding of mental health.”

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.