Parenting with a mental illness can be challenging for you and your child. While you can still take care of them in ways that are loving and safe, there will be times when you might need extra support from your friends, family, or healthcare providers to get you through these tough times. And it’s perfectly OK to ask for extra help as a parent. There’s no shame in it!
To understand what your kids might be going through, one of the first things you have to do is research how parental mental health affects them. Now, the effect of a parent’s mental illness on their kids is often varied and unpredictable. Some children may be negatively affected, while others might not.
Below, we’ve listed some ways your mental health and behavior could affect your kids.
1. Disruptions In The Household
Kids of parents with mental illness experience disruptions in their families that impact many areas of their lives, including their education.
For example, it can be challenging for children to finish projects or concentrate on learning when they are concerned for their parent’s safety or are dealing with the stress of being apart from a parent while they’re in the hospital.
Most children of parents with mental illness take on additional household duties to support the family, such as looking after younger siblings and even acting as their parent’s caregiver. Unfortunately, these extra responsibilities increase stress levels and cause distractions from studying, doing homework, and attending school.
2. Strong, Confusing Emotions on Children
In response to their parent’s mental health problems, kids frequently go through a wide range of emotions. For example, they could be angry at their parents for a certain circumstance or confused and afraid about what’s happening.
Some kids even feel guilty or ashamed of their parents, family, or even themselves because they believe they are to blame for their parent’s mental illness. As a result, children may require extra guidance to process these overwhelming emotions and learn coping techniques such as listening to music or going for a walk.
3. Risk of Emotional, Behavioural, and Social Problems
Children of parents with mental illness are also more likely to experience emotional, behavioural, and social problems that may affect how they behave at home, in school, and in their communities.
Due to their genetic disposition and risk factors in their home environment, they are more prone to developing mental illnesses themselves.
4. Dealing With Other People’s Perception
Aside from difficulties within the household, you might also face stigma and discrimination from other people making judgments or assumptions about your mental health.
For instance, people might criticise your parenting skills because you struggle with mental health issues, or your child might experience bullying or teasing.
Helping Your Child
Aside from boosting their mood by spending time with them as they do their favourite activities, you can also do the following:
Encourage Open and Honest Communication
Discussing your mental health openly with your children will help them better comprehend your behaviours and ease any worry or confusion they may be experiencing.
Make yourself available to your kids if they need help or just want to talk. If they have questions, try to be as truthful as possible when responding. Lastly, assure them that they are not to blame for your feelings. Instead, work as a team with your kids to support one another.
If they’re uncomfortable sharing their thoughts with you, identify a dependable teacher, friend, or family member to whom your child can talk if they ever feel worried.
Keep An Eye On Their Mental Health
Monitoring your child’s well-being is an excellent way to ensure that they are doing OK and that their mental health is not suffering.
If you pay attention to how they are, you will be able to notice any difficulties and address them immediately if they arise.
Ensure That Their Responsibilities Are Manageable
If your child is responsible for tasks around the house, it might mean that they are a young carer. Their tasks could involve chores like cleaning, managing the household, shopping, or finances, or helping you with basic needs such as taking medication or washing.
Make an effort to keep track of how much they are doing to ensure that their responsibilities aren’t affecting them negatively.
Looking After Yourself
Asking for help as a parent can sometimes be very difficult. You might worry about being judged by others or tell yourself that you can do it all alone. However, this will only pull you and your kids down, so try not to put too much pressure on yourself.
Here are some ideas for you:
Maintain Your Mental Wellness
This includes scheduling time for exercise, sustaining a healthy diet, quitting smoking, getting better sleep, or consulting your healthcare provider about available treatments.
Keep A Routine & Stay Organized
You’ll feel more anchored, and your kids will feel safer if you maintain regular food and sleep schedules.
Your family’s routines should be documented so that anyone helping your family will know what to expect. You might also include your kids’ likes and dislikes as well as their daily and weekly schedules. If there are instances when you can’t be as hands-on, this can make you feel more in control.
Create A Strong Support Network
Look for someone you can trust for both emotional and practical support. Tell them when you start to struggle and what you need, whether it’s assistance with getting the kids to school or scheduling a doctor’s visit.
Parenting With A Mental Illness Isn’t Impossible
It’s easy to blame any parenting challenges you might face on your mental health problems, but it’s important to remember that all parents face challenges and that a “perfect parent” doesn’t exist.
Take care of yourself as best as you can so that you’ll be able to care for your child and communicate with them in a warm and caring manner.
Written by Katie Pierce, a teacher-slash-writer who loves telling stories to an audience, whether it’s bored adults in front of a computer screen or a bunch of hyperactive 4-year-olds. Writing keeps her sane (most of the time) and allows her to enjoy some quiet time in the evening before she walks into a room of screaming kids (all of whom she loves dearly) the next morning.