When my daughter started preschool, I started a routine with her where I would ask her about her day in the car on our drive home. In that 10 to 15 minutes, she would recount to me what she thought was the important details of her day. Sometimes, she told me who she played with and how she ate all of her lunch, but sometimes she would tell me about conflicts between her and her friends. Now that she is in 2nd grade, we still have the same routine. She still tells me about her day when I pick her up from school each day. In the years we have been doing this, it has evolved into 10 minutes of her telling me whatever is on her heart. If needed, I would give her advice and tips to address a situation at school or help her look at problem from a different perspective. But, mostly, I just listen. I listen to all of the things she has to say no matter how mundane it might seen to me; because if it is important enough for her to tell me, I want to make sure that I listen to it and understand it. We have established a line of open communication and I intended to keep it that way.
Usually when there is a sensitive subject I need to speak to my daughter about, I would discuss it with my husband first. Together, we would go over the key points we would like to get across. Depending on how serious the topic is, either one of us will speak to her, or both of us will sit down with her at the same time. For instance, when discussing the topic of "Bullying," we have had very open and honest talks with our daughter. We purchased books that's appropriate for her age so that she could better understand the definition and how to better equip herself in dealing with bullies. We have also had long serious discussions with her so that she understands our positions and that she could come to us any time for help.
We have a family member with mental illness, and I must admit that we have not yet approach the topic with my daughter. Mostly it is because she is not close to this family member and so she is not aware of struggles this family member deals with on a daily basis. However, since we have a line of open communication with our daughter, I know that we will be able to speak to her in an open and honest way when she does ask questions. We have taught our daughter to be compassionate and accepting of people, so I believe that we are on the right track. She might have questions, but in our hearts, we know that she will not reject anyone based on their challenges.
Our children know that they could come to us anytime to ask questions or get help. We might not always see eye to eye to the choices they make, but our love for our kids is unconditional. Since we have established a line of open communication with our kids already, we definitely would like them to reach out to us and seek help so that they are not suffering alone, even if and when they are hurting from mental illness.
I have learned that the best way to be an example to my children is to show compassion and support to those in need. My kids learn by seeing how we behave in different circumstances. We are teaching our kids that people with mental illness are not defined by their challenges; rather, the mental illness is just a small part of who they are. I encourage you to visit Each Mind Matters website to learn more about mental illness and to start a line of open communication with your children so that they will feel comfortable enough to speak to you on this sensitive subject.