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It’s World Mental Health Day.  This year’s focus is on suicide prevention.  This is such an important issue to consider when working with our children as it is one of the leading causes of death for healthy teenagers. 

In today’s society, changes are happening for the better to promote positive mental health.  However, boys continue to suffer from the social pressure that defines them by their gender.  They are permitted to cry at the serious things like death and divorce.  However, they are continually encouraged to repress any emotion other than anger and happiness in their day to day lives.  Because of this assumption that boys do not have deep feelings, they are being exposed to far fewer ways to define their emotions than their female peers.  This leads to higher levels of depression and anxiety coupled with a useless shame for seeking help.  Can we really wonder why many of our boys are lacking coping skills for their emotions when they feel they don’t have permission to have those feelings to begin with?

Luckily, we are in a moment of awakening when it comes to resolving gender bias.  Society is realising that this is not a feminist issue, but a human issue.  We can do better for our children by providing them with an emotional vocabulary that is not coupled with shame and guilt for not “being a man”.  Here are some important facts to instill in all of our children to help them experience emotions without letting them cause poor mental health

All Emotions Are OK and Have Names

In the beginning of language development, we feel sad, mad or happy.  As we develop more language skills, we broaden our understanding of how our world works.  The earlier we can better define how we feel; the more awareness we develop of why we feel that way.  Let them learn the difference between hyper and energized, between ecstatic and joyful, between furious and frustrated.  The coping skills for all of those feelings are different as are the causes.  Definition provides insight which provides self-awareness.

Give the Gift of Because

Children often feel negative emotions as anger (adults do as well!).  Anger is a superficial emotion that we feel because we cannot define or cope with the underlying feeling.  Adding one simple word can help move through the anger to the real feeling that is causing pain.  So, “I’m angry”, the comment becomes “I’m angry because I lost the game.”  Then, we can help them define the real feeling of disappointment or embarrassment.  Finding their ‘because’ also provides a moment to bond with your child.  Who doesn’t want a few extra moments like that!

Vulnerability is NOT the Same as Weakness

This is a lesson that many guarded people struggle to learn.  There is a strength in being vulnerable.  There is courage in being vulnerable and showing up anyway.  Responding to vulnerability by offering a secure space for reflection teaches our children to be comfortable in their own skin at all times.  It teaches them grit and to be brave.

Asking for Help is an Essential Life Skill

Any teacher will tell you, one of the biggest challenges in a classroom comes from children being afraid to ask for help.  They fear exposing themselves as someone who does not know what to do.  This translates into a limiting belief that can be life threatening.  We need to change the narrative.  Those who ask for help, get what they need to be better.  Help may need to be academic, emotional, physical or in questioning identity.  There is nothing more isolating than being under resourced without a developed skill and ability to ask for help.  We need to teach our children the skill of asking for help now so that when they are older, that muscle is already developed. 

Mental Health is Equal in Value to Physical Health

We would not hesitate to go to the hospital for a broken arm.  We know that we do not have to suffer extreme pain without support and that healing can take time.  The same is true when suffering with poor mental health.  Exam stress will always be there.  However, it does not need to be so extreme that the emotional pain becomes unbearable.  Teach them that it is ok to find better resources for coping.  There are professionals who are educated and trained to help.  It only makes sense to rely on their expertise when under-resourced.

Many mental health conditions in adolescence and adulthood can be avoided if we educate our children now.  Gender should not define how broadly or how deeply we are allowed to feel.  It is time that we allow our boys and girls to define and cope with all feelings.  Emotions are not just for girls anymore.

Please see here for further articles and vlogs on the topic of ‘Emotion Coaching’.