Navigating Tough Conversations: Explaining Parental Mental Illness to Children

As parents, we want to keep our children safe from pain and uncertainty. We attempt to provide a safe sanctuary in which kids can feel loved, secure, and protected. However, there are times when life throws us obstacles that cause us to have unpleasant conversations with our children. One such challenge is communicating a parent’s mental condition to a child.

Mental  Health can be complicated

Mental illness can be complicated and confusing for adults, let alone children. How can you begin to describe something so abstract yet so important to family dynamics? How do you reassure your child while also being open about your own or your partner’s struggles? Here are some gentle ways to help you navigate this tricky topic.

Find a peaceful moment when you and your child can converse without being distracted. Make sure both of you are comfortable and emotionally available.

Use Age-Appropriate Language:

Customise your explanation for your child’s age and degree of comprehension. Younger children may require simpler language, whilst older children can understand more complicated concepts.

Be Honest but Reassuring:


It is critical to be truthful with your child about the circumstance while also telling them that they are loved and cared for. Let them know that mental illness is not their fault and that it is acceptable to experience a variety of feelings about it.

Provide Concrete Examples:

Use related examples to assist your youngster in understanding mental illness and how it affects behaviour. For example, you may equate it to having a cold or a broken bone, which requires time and care to recover.

Encourage Questions:

Let your youngster know that it is acceptable to ask questions and share their emotions. Encourage open discussion so that they feel heard and supported.

Highlight Support Systems:


Make it clear that there are individuals and resources available to assist both the parent with mental illness and the youngster. Discuss therapists, support groups, and other resources that can offer comfort and direction.

Normalise Seeking Help:

Reduce the stigma associated with mental health by making it acceptable to seek help when necessary. Tell your child that it’s appropriate to express their feelings and that asking for help is a show of strength, not weakness.

Reiterate Love and Stability:


Remind your youngster that, despite the difficulties, your love for them is unwavering. Emphasise the consistency and routine in their life, which will persist despite fluctuations in the parent’s mental health.

Follow-Up and Check-In:


After the initial chat, continue to communicate with your child regularly. Inquire how they are feeling and if they have any other questions or concerns. Reassure them that they can always turn to you for help.


Finally, set a good example by looking after your mental health and t is to prioritise self-care and seek help when using appropriate coping techniques. Show your child how crucial it is.

Having a conversation about parental mental illness can be difficult, but it is an important step in helping your child understand and cope with the issues they may experience. Approach the topic with empathy, honesty, and love, and you’ll build a foundation of trust and resilience that will benefit your family for years to come.