We were getting buckled into the car, not an easy task by any means when four of the six people getting into the car are in boosters or car seats, and the Princess asked me for the third time where exactly we were going. Not 100% sure how to present it-or really exactly what would happen-I simply began by telling her we were going to stand at city hall for a group of people who aren’t always taught super kindly.
(The Princess, holding up one of the signs!)
Of course, being my little inquisitive lady, she couldn’t just take that answer at face value. We always try to be as honest as possible about the things we are recognizing, because we find that honesty is indeed the best policy. The conversation looked a little like this:
Me: “It’s for people who have brains that work differently than others. Like they get angry faster, or worry a whole bunch, or are sad more often.”
Princess: So people like Monkey?
(Monkey and his sign! We got to explain what “spectrum” meant after that. I told them, a spectrum meant it’s not only freezing cold or burning hot, but it’s like different days that are all kinds of temperatures.)
I had to giggle at this. My son has some of the more obvious behaviors to the naked eye-he was non verbal for years, he has the sensory meltdowns, all that jazz. He’s sort of what one would think of when you talk about raising awareness for neurodiversity. We’ve talked many times before about how he sometimes needs extra reminders to control himself and he learns differently than she does-which isn’t bad but it is our life.
Me: “Yes, like Monkey. But also like you! And me! We both have times when we get overwhelmed right? And you yell or scream before you can stop it or I need to take a break alone.”
Princess: “Oh, so me, you and Monkey. What about Bear? Does he have this?”
(My favorite little seven year old and I, rocking out signs! Bear’s along for the ride too, if you catch him!)
Of course, she heard it and accepted it, just like that. As an answer to her question, does Bear have it, I told her the truth-we all could have a mental illness. Bear is still very young to even know(after all, he’s only six weeks!), but he very well could be one of those children someday because of his genetic make up.
Which was another thing she asked about; “Why do we have these things?”
This question is one I had to consider, because at the end of the day we don’t know. I told her first, that it was something that could come down through your family tree like brown eyes or blonde hair. Or it could be because of something that happened to you when you were little that changed how you handle things. Or it could be a little bit of both. But we learn how to handle them and deal with it with our therapists and the variety of ways we de-esculate and calm ourselves down. And now we work on healthy habits for our minds, the same way we exercise and eat well rounded foods for our bodies.
(Adam Hinds, who is running for State Senate and our City Mayor Dick Alcombright: Vote for people who are for people like you!)
Talking about mental health with children can be that simple. We had this conversation on the way to the rally and then we stood out for about a half hour, waving our signs and showing support to others in the town like us.
I‘m sure this will be an ongoing talk we have for years as we grow and change and face challenges that we haven’t faced before. I fully intend to force it to be an ongoing conversation, because in my book, mental health is just as important as physical health and it’s so integrated with it as well.
Please, talk to your children about their mental health.
For your kids, for the kids they will meet who may struggle, and for my kids. Let’s break the silence, break the stigma and open up gates to understanding, acceptance, and kindness.
If you have any interest in getting involved in Northern Berkshire with programs that work with Children’s Mental Health and awareness, this rally was put on by Northern Berkshire Systems of Care Committee!
How have you talked to your kids about mental health?