From The Straits Times    |

Getty

According to a 2023 study by medtech services firm Telus Health, 37 per cent of Singaporeans had a “high mental health risk” and just under half had a moderate mental health risk. 

As conversations about mental health continue to sprout and spread, more people are beginning to share their struggles with anxiety and for some, depression. A prime group would most certainly be parents who often need to dig deep into their mental-emotional reserves to keep afloat at work, raise little humans and keep the household together.

How your mental health affects your child

It is easy for a mental health issue like anxiety to rear its ugly head while you parent. A simple example is habitual snappiness and curt responses when your child tries to communicate. 

“Over time, depending on your child’s personality, he or she might start to seek affection affirmation elsewhere, create situations to get any kind of attention from you or give up trying altogether,” shares Lydia Lim, chief psychologist and co-founder of Connected, a digital resource designed to strengthen parent-child relationships through personalised insights and tips.

Lydia Lim, Co-Founder of Connected

Other times, anxious parents who are overly controlling of their child’s daily schedule and activities may find themselves up against a creative kid seeking different ways of rebelling against routine — or on the other end of the spectrum, a child who winds up afraid of anything that’s not familiar. 

If your or your spouse’s mental health is on edge, stop suffering in silence. “We should reach out to those around us for different perspectives, insights and wisdom. However, if we find that the help we receive isn’t helpful for our struggles, we should feel liberated to seek help from a professional therapist,” says Lydia.

What do you tell your children?

While your spouse or you work through mental health struggles, it is important to be honest with the kids. But the ways in which you communicate depend on a few factors. Here are some of Lydia’s suggestions:

1. There are benefits to sharing your challenges

When you tell the kids only about your wins, they may wind up not having any reference point when they encounter similar struggles. Conversely, when parents share significant struggles where they need professional help, children start to recognise that seeking help is part and parcel of thriving in life, Lydia says, and if they ever need professional guidance in future, there is less fear and apprehension involved.

2. Don’t let your child become the parent

Credit: 123rf

While Lydia advocates for parents to build relationships with children that allow open sharing of struggles and needs by all parties, there is a caveat. You’ll need to think through how you share, so a naturally other-centred child doesn’t take it upon himself or herself to take on more responsibilities or independently tackle challenges that may be overwhelming.
3. Be age-appropriate

“There is no one way to convey this information, especially to children and teens,” says Lydia. She recommends using a tool like Connected to find out the personality insights of parent and child so that you can tailor your message.

That being said, there are general guidelines to help you along. 

For preschoolers, keep things simple to avoid confusion. Some useful phrases may include, “It’s something like… but not exactly the same as…” or “You know how you sometimes feel very grumpy and you’re not sure why. Just like we try different ways to help you understand so you can feel better and do better, mummy or daddy is getting help for something like this too!” On top of this, be sure to assure your preschooler that parental love and attention are never lacking.

Primary school children may also benefit from simple explanations. Encourage them to be explicit about the help and support they need so you or your spouse can continue to be present while having time and space to rest. 

Tweens and teens are more likely to understand the intricate nuances and complications of mental health struggles, shares Lydia. It’s important to maintain constant communication and allow them to clarify their understanding of what you or your spouse is going through. 

4. Use “we” instead of “I”

Even if your better half is taking some time out for recuperation, you should continue to speak as a parental unit, using “we” instead of “I” will prevent the kids from feeling like the other parent is absent. Also, your spouse will not feel isolated or ostracised.

5. Do constant check-ins

“Have intentional conversations with the children about how they feel or what they understand about mummy or daddy’s struggles,” suggests Lydia. “These conversations can shed light not just on what the children need, but also give insights and in-roads to how you and your partner can influence and impact their worldview as they grow.”

This article was originally published in Singapore Women’s Weekly.