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How to Have Constructive Conversations With Kids About Mental Health

My first rule for dealing with mental health was we wouldn’t talk about mental health. Coming from a family with a history of massive depressive disorders, suicide, and a steady stream of antidepressants running through the veins of many, my hope was that my children and I would be spared.

It was naïve, but I did not go into parenting prepared because I didn’t want to face the realities of this happening to my crew. Reality knocked me off my feet a couple of years ago when I found myself struggling with anxiety while one of my kids periodically battled obsessive compulsive behavior. Another child jumped on the anxiety train with me soon after.

With a world that looked nothing like my idealized, perfectly mentally healthy vision, I was at a loss for how to move forward. How do we talk to our kids about the illnesses no one can see?

Why we don’t talk about it

Parental guilt is a heavy burden, and it keeps us from talking about mental illness in children. Not only do we avoid discussing it with our kids, but many are ashamed to share these struggles with other adults.

When my daughter washed her hands so often that they bled, I blamed myself. She has Celiac disease, and washing hands is one of the best ways to keep her safe from gluten. However, I felt my training led her down a path of destruction, and I just wanted to fix it, not discuss it.

Parents also don’t want to label their kids. One mom I spoke to said that offering solutions can work, but labeling the actual issue may reinforce it, making the child feel like they are only the condition they struggle with. She’s seen this happen during her time as an educator.

These concerns are real, but so are childhood mental health struggles. According to the Child Mind Institute, mental health issues affect children more than any other health problem.

Though the conversations may evolve over time, starting out a bit vague and moving into more detailed discussions, we need to make sure our kids are comfortable talking about the good and bad feelings and thoughts they experience. Here’s how.

Get educated

We need to face our own views of mental illness before trying to help kids wrap their minds around the concept. Educating ourselves to make sure we don’t inadvertently pass down false information or stereotypes is essential. It will also help us answer the plethora of questions that usually come from kids.

Early and often

Talking about mental health should happen the same way talking about sex should: early and often. Amanda Petrik-Gardner, LCPC says “from an early age, talk about feelings.” These discussions will look different depending on a child’s stage of life, but the sooner kids learn that they are safe to ask questions or express big feelings, the more likely it is that this will be the norm in their worlds.

In very young kids, this can mean giving them words to describe their feelings. As they age, parents can talk more about the signs of anxiety or depression, giving their children a language early on that will help them communicate if things go off course.

Petrik-Gardner points out that we need to “provide a non-judgmental atmosphere when a child speaks about their feelings.” This can be a challenge because, as adults, a child’s feelings may not make sense to us. However, acknowledging what they are going through is key when identifying problems and helping them through them. We want to talk to them in a way that will keep them talking to us.

Offer options

It’s horrifying for anyone to feel trapped with no options for escape. Talking to kids about possible help for the issues that ail them is key. We tell our kids what possibilities are available when they are physically sick, such as rest, medication, and hydration. We can do the same for mental illness.

When my daughter complained of feeling the need to obsessively wash her hands again, I talked to her about how last time this happened her selenium levels were freakishly low. I pointed her to the possible reason, and then we discussed the fix. The problem wasn’t instantly cured but we had a game plan, and that is empowering.

Look to literature

Books are amazing tools when trying to help kids feel less alone as they struggle. Books like “Wilma Jean, the Worry Machine” and “Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears” address mental health struggles head on and give practical solutions for how to deal with them.

This is also a great way to introduce the topic without pointing it out in a child. Characters in the books are the ones dealing with these problems, but kids will often come forward on their own and talk about how they relate to the characters when given the chance. It gives them an opportunity to define what they are experiencing instead of having someone else do it for them.

Reading these books to or with kids can help them feel represented, and it can also offers kids who don’t struggle with these issues a way to see things from the point of view of a character who does. Research shows that those who read fiction tend to do better on tests scoring empathy, so reading about these issues to kids who don’t deal with them is a great way to help them help others.

Offer them the ability to talk to someone else

We often want to be the one-stop fix for all of our kids’ problems. However, we do better when we acknowledge that our children might be more comfortable talking to someone else about their feelings.

Dr. Cindy T. Graham says, “some kids might not feel comfortable talking to their parents about their worries and mood. Parents should be open to allowing their child to speak with any adult who is qualified to handle these topics with whom their child feels comfortable speaking.”

Though it can be hard to put this job into someone else’s hands, it’s important to do it if our child will benefit. It’s not always easy to talk about the darkest parts of ourselves with the people we’re closest to. A child may find a therapist easier to confide in.

These conversations don’t have to be big and scary. Mental health, like physical health, takes work, and our kids need to know what that looks like. They also need to know that asking for support when their minds feel unwell is good and acceptable.

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With two babies in tow, getting out the door often becomes doubly challenging. From the extra things to carry to the extra space needed in your backseat, it can be easy to feel daunted at the prospect of a day out. But before you resign yourself to life indoors, try incorporating these five genius products from Nuna to get you and the littles out the door. (Because Vitamin D is important, mama!)

1. A brilliant double stroller

You've got more to carry—and this stroller gets it. The DEMI™ grow stroller from Nuna easily converts from a single ride to a double stroller thanks to a few easy-to-install accessories. And with 23 potential configurations, you're ready to hit the road no matter what life throws at you.

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2. A light car seat

Lugging a heavy car seat is the last thing a mama of two needs to have on her hands. Instead, pick up the PIPA™ lite, a safe, svelte design that weighs in at just 5.3 pounds (not counting the canopy or insert)—that's less than the average newborn! When you need to transition from car to stroller, this little beauty works seamlessly with Nuna's DEMI™ grow.

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The thing new moms of multiples really need to get out the door? A little peace of mind. The PIPA™ base features a steel stability leg for maximum security that helps to minimize forward rotation during impact by up to 90% (compared to non-stability leg systems) and 5-second installation for busy mamas.

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It's hard to find an accessory that's as stylish as it is functional. But the Nuna diaper bag pulls out all the stops with a sleek design that perfectly conceals a deceptively roomy interior (that safely stores everything from extra diapers to your laptop!). And with three ways to wear it, even Dad will want to take this one to the park.

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With 5 essentials that are as flexible as you need to be, the only thing we're left asking is, where are you going to go, mama?

This article was sponsored by Nuna. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Parents in New Jersey will soon get more money and more time for parental leave after welcoming a baby.

This week New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed off on legislation that extends New Jersey's paid family leave from six weeks to 12.

It also increases the benefit cap from 53% of the average weekly wage to 70%, meaning the maximum benefit for a parent on family leave will be $860 a week, up from $650.

It might not seem like a huge difference, but by raising the benefit from two-thirds of a parent's pay to 85%, lawmakers in New Jersey are hoping to encourage more parents to actually take leave, which is good for the parents, their baby and their family. "Especially for that new mom and dad, we know that more time spent bonding with a child can lead to a better long-term outcome for that child," Murphy said at a press conference this week.

The law will also make it easier for people to take time off when a family member is sick.

Because NJ's paid leave is funded through payroll deductions, workers could see an increase in those deductions, but Murphy is betting that workers and businesses will see the benefits in increasing paid leave benefits. "Morale goes up, productivity goes up, and more money goes into the system," Murphy said. "And increasingly, companies big and small realize that a happy workforce and a secure workforce is a key ingredient to their success."

The new benefits will go into effect in July 2020 (making next Halloween a good time to get pregnant in the Garden State).

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Whether you just need to stock up on diapers or you've had your eye on a specific piece of baby gear, you might want to swing by your local Walmart this Saturday, February 23rd.

Walmart's big "Baby Savings Day" is happening from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at participating Walmarts (but more deals can be found online at Walmart.com already and the website deals are happening for the rest of the month).

About 3,000 of the 3,570 Supercenter locations are participating in the sale (check here to see if your local Walmart is).

The deals vary, but in general you can expect up to 30% off on items like cribs, strollers, car seats, wipes, diapers and formula.

Some items, like this Graco Modes 3 Lite Travel System have been marked down by more than $100. Other hot items include this Lille Baby Complete Carrier (It's usually $119, going for $99 during the sale) and the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat (for as low as $199).

So if you're in need of baby gear, you should check out this sale. Travel gear isn't the only category that's been marked down, there are some steep discounts on breast pumps, too.

Many of the Walmart locations will also be offering samples and expert demos of certain products on Saturday so it's worth checking out!

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Any Schumer has not had an easy pregnancy. She intended to keep working, but if you follow her on social media you know she's been very sick through each trimester.

And now in her final trimester she's had to cancel her tour due to hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as HG. It's a rare but very serious form of extreme morning sickness, and on Friday evening Schumer announced she is canceling the rest of her tour because of it.

“I vomit every time [I] ride in a car even for 5 minutes," Schumer explained in an Instagram post.

Due to the constant vomiting she's not cleared to fly and just can't continue to the tour.

This is not the first time Schumer has had to make an announcement about HG. Back in November, just weeks after announcing her pregnancy, she had to cancel shows and again broke the news via Instagram.

She posted a photo of herself in a hospital bed with her little dog Tati, and spelled out the details of her health issues in the caption. "I have hyperemesis and it blows," Schumer wrote.

Poor Amy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is really tough.

Kate Middleton, Ayesha Curry and Motherly co-founder Elizabeth Tenety are among those who, like Schumer, have suffered from this form of severe morning sickness that can be totally debilitating.

As she previously wrote for Motherly, Tenety remembers becoming desperately ill, being confined to her apartment (mostly her bed) and never being far from a trash can, "I lost 10% of my body weight. I became severely dehydrated. I couldn't work. I couldn't even get out of bed. I could barely talk on the phone to tell my doctor how sick I was—begging them to please give me something, anything—to help."

Thankfully, she found relief through a prescription for Zofran, an anti-nausea drug.

Schumer probably knows all about that drug. It looks she is getting the medical help she obviously needs, and she was totally right to cancel the tour in order to stay as healthy as possible.

We're glad to see Schumer is getting help, and totally understand why she would have to cancel her shows. Any mama who has been through HG will tell you, that wouldn't be a show you'd want front row seats for anyway.

Get well soon, Amy!

[A version of this post was published November 15, 2018. It has been updated.]

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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