I received an interesting question yesterday: What is the best way to share your mental health diagnosis with your child?
There is no simple answer to that question. It will depend on your child—the age of your child and your child’s level of maturity. It will also depend on your child's current circumstances. We never want children to adopt the role of “parent” to their moms and dads, and we never want children to feel like they are somehow to blame for how their parents are feeling.
Sometimes though, the circumstance would require your child to have some understanding of what is happening for the parent. This would be especially true if a child needed to stay with an extended family member for a while during their parents’ treatment.
If a parent is struggling with mental health challenges, it is incredibly important—I would say critically important—that they get help. Getting help is not only necessary for the parent’s health but also for the health of the family as a whole. An important part of this help will be talk therapy and the therapist involved can help a parent navigate the “disclosure” process with the child. The therapist may even encourage the parent to bring the child into a session to discuss the diagnosis during a family therapy session.
Parents sometimes find it helpful to keep a parenting journal where they write to their child about what is happening for them and how they are feeling, but that they save this journal to share with their grown up children.
If parents are ever in doubt about how their mental health is affecting the wellbeing of their child, they should reach out to a child psychologist or therapist. Getting your child help, while you are receiving help, would be an excellent idea.
A word of wisdom: when you are struggling with mental health challenges, this is not the time to economize. The first step is always to talk to your family doctor to see if there is any help available that would be covered by the medical services plan. There are often long wait times for this help, and so if you do not have extended medical that covers psychotherapy, this is the time to reach into savings (or ask for help from others) to pay for the treatment you need! (A note of advocacy from myself to Prime Minister Trudeau: if you really want to make a difference in the lives of Canadians—include the services of registered psychologists under the MSP programs in each province. This care will undoubtedly pay for itself over time, as prevention and early intervention are truly the keys to successful mental health treatment!)
With all these things in mind, here are some general guidelines for how to disclose your mental illness to your child, broken into broad age groups:
Preschool and younger:
Children this young would not often need to know the diagnosis. This is a time to shelter stress, as much as is possible, from your child. Parents must seek treatment and surround themselves with as much support as they possibly can. This is the time to ask family and friends to come in and help you with the children as much as possible.
Early elementary school:
Children this young would be similar to preschool children, except they could likely handle you explaining that you are “not feeling well.” It is important to reassure children and tell them not to worry about you. Explain that you are getting help and will be better soon. The key here is to not transfer your stress onto your child.
Middle elementary school:
Children at this age could manage a little more. You could explain that you do not “feel well in your mind” or “in your heart.” It will still be very important to reassure your children, stress that this is not their faulty in any what whatsoever, and explain that you are getting the best help available. Leave them with a feeling of hope that things will be better soon.
Older elementary school and middle years:
Older kids could handle a name. You could say something like, “I have an illness called depression. It means that I have deep feelings of sadness inside me that I cannot shake off. It drains me of my energy and makes me want to sleep all the time. It is nobody’s fault. It is not my fault, and it is certainly not your fault!” Share with your child everything that you are doing to feel better and give them hope that things will be better soon.
Adolescents and young adults:
This is the time to have the kind of conversation you have been probably wanting to have with your child for a long while. Young people at this age could handle more detailed information. This would be a good time to explain the medical basis for the mental illness. You can talk about genetic factors and environmental factors. You could explain in more depth the treatment you are receiving. You can give your children updates on how your doing and what your doctors (etc) are suggesting. You can also ask your child of this age for a little help. Ask them to help around the house. Ask them to go for walks with you. Allow them a sense of agency and give them a way to participate in the family’s goal of getting you better. This is also the time to talk to your adolescent children about any genetic risk factors they may have inherited and what to be on the lookout for in their own lives. Talk about what it means to practice good mental health care. Perhaps, you could even bring advocacy into these discussion. How can your family raise awareness about mental health and spread the message that the world needs to LOSE the stigma (finally!) and focus on getting help to those who need it?
If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please send them in! I am continually learning and growing by sharing ideas with others. To me, this blog is a community of sharing!
On Friday, April 21st, I was excited to present at the Girls’ STEM Leadership Conference "Heads and Hearts To Action" at St. Margaret's School! This was a very special day for me because my two daughters (Lauren & Ally) have been at SMS since Kindergarten!
I presented about how the field of psychology fits into STEM, and in particular how "positive psychology" is shaping the way psychology is understood in the 21st century.
The room was filled with bright and keen young women who asked amazing questions! It was the most fun I have had in a long, long time!
Here are some photos of the event and from my presentation :)
I am excited to share that the JustEnough.ca books will soon be translated into Greek & launched in Greece! Hopefully, there will be a book tour!
I am pleased to share with you a guest posting by Daisy about test taking tips and strategies! Here is a link to Daisy's original article: https://custom-writing.org/blog/test-taking-skills
Dr. Jillian Roberts
35 Must-Know Test Taking Tips & Strategies!
Are you dreading your upcoming tests because you feel unprepared? Or are you simply looking to refresh and improve your test taking strategies?
Either way, these 35 must-know test taking tips and strategies will help you to prepare for your upcoming tests. Even if you only have one day to prepare for your test, you’re sure to find some of these tips and strategies useful. But just keep in mind that you will get more out of these if you have more time to prepare.
Test taking tips & strategies: Planning ahead
Create a study plan
Whether you have months, weeks or only a day to prepare for a test, creating a study plan is a great way to manage your time and study more efficiently. If you have plenty of time before the test, then it will help you to start a regular studying routine and organize your studying into more manageable chunks, so you can pace yourself instead of trying to take on the entire semester’s worth of information at once. Even if you only have one day to prepare, creating a study plan is still important – in fact, even more so, as it will help you to stay on track and focus on the most important areas.
Create summary sheets at the end of each week
Review your lecture notes and course material at the end of each week, and create summary sheets for each course while the information is still fresh in your mind. This will make it much easier for you to make study sheets for tests later, rather than trying to cover an entire semester’s worth of information at once. Take note of any gaps in your summary sheets, and if there is anything that you’re not sure about, ask your teachers.
Find out everything you can about the test
Finding out everything you can about the test will help you to plan and prepare in advance, so you can manage your time more efficiently. It can also help to reduce stress, as you will have a better idea of what to expect. Here are some important dates and details you should write down:
Identify areas that you’re struggling with
Don’t avoid areas that you’re struggling with. Identify them, so you can work on them and improve. For example, if there is a question that you’re hoping won’t be on the test, practise that one first, so you’re prepared if it does come up on the test. If you have an extended essay test coming up and you’re not great at essays, practise answering previous test questions and read successful examples. You could also ask your teachers for help, such as asking them to look over one of your practice essay answers.
Organize a small study group
Early in the semester, consider organizing a small study group with a few students from your course. And set up a Facebook group where you can organize study sessions and help each other if anyone has a question.
Test taking tips & strategies: Preparing for the test
Revise summary sheets for test preparation
This is when you’ll thank your past self for spending a little time each week during the semester to create summary sheets, as you can now simply revise them to create summary sheets to study for the test, instead of starting from scratch. These should only include the information that is relevant to the test. For example, if your final test is going to test what you learned in the second half of the semester, then just focus on those summary sheets. If you have more time, and if you think it’s necessary, then you may also want to create a brief summary of the most important points from the first half of the semester to refresh your memory.
Set your priorities
Setting your priorities is especially important if you have multiple tests to prepare for, as it will help you to manage your time more efficiently. You should focus on the tests that are the closest, but you also have to think about which tests are worth more of your grade and which ones you think will be easier for you than others.
Set goals for each study session
To study more efficiently, make sure you set goals for each study session. Go through your study plan and focus on one topic at a time. This will also help you to digest the information better. In such a way you will know how to do good on a test.
Find a studying environment that works for you
Do you prefer to study inside or outside? Do you study better in a quiet library where other students are studying as well, or by yourself at home where you can play your music, or in a cafe with a steady supply of coffee? Find a few different places that work best for you.
This may not be on your list of test taking tips, but it should be. It’s especially important to find ways to stay motivated if you’re starting to feel the pressure and becoming overwhelmed. Here are some suggestions for how you could stay motivated:
Use Memory Techniques
Here are some examples of memory techniques that could help make it easier for you to memorize information:
Prepare for different types of questions
If your test is going to include a mix of different types of questions, make sure you prepare for them and learn strategies that will help you with each one.
For example, here are some tips for multiple choice test:
Complete Practice Tests
Practice tests are a great way to prepare for your final tests. Review any practice tests that you completed in class, and find out if you can access past tests. Here are some tips for completing practice tests:
Review your previous tests
If you’ve already complete tests or quizzes during the semester, review them and take note of any areas that you could improve in.
Organize a last student session with other students
If you started a small study group earlier in the semester, organize a last study session a few days before the test. You can test each other and ask questions if you’re not sure about something.
Pack everything you need for the test before you go to sleep
The night before the test, pack everything you need, so you have less to worry about on the actual day. Here are some questions that you should ask yourself:
Take care of yourself and get a good night’s sleep before the test
Don’t forget to take breaks and take care of yourself. Even if you only have one day until the test, don’t skip meals or pull an all-nighter. You may think that it’s better to spend those extra hours on more studying instead of sleeping, but it will most likely only make it more difficult for you to focus during the test. And just a few extra hours of study won’t make much of a difference if you stuck with your plan, so just go to sleep and be confident that you’ve done all that you can. In fact, it is one of the most useful test taking skills.
Test taking tips & strategies: Taking the test
Arrive early and with a positive mindset
You don’t need the added pressure of worrying about being late, so make sure you arrive early. This will give you more time to fit in some last-minute revision and get your nerves under control. You should also try to walk into the test room with a positive mindset, so take some deep breaths and avoid thinking negative thoughts such as “I’m going to fail”. You’ve already done everything that you can, so now you just have to focus on the test.
Do what works best for you
Not everyone prepares for tests the same way, so find what works best for you and stick to it. For example, if arriving a few hours early to study in a nearby library will make you feel more comfortable, then do that. If fitting in some last-minute revision before a test only makes you feel more stressed and like you haven’t studied enough, then don’t worry about it. If listening to other students talk and worry about the test makes you more stressed, put in your earphones and listen to music instead.
Check your test paper for missing pages
Check that you have the right test paper and that you’re not missing any pages. The teacher will most likely tell you to check this before you begin the test. You don’t want to find out that you have missing pages in the middle of the test, because telling the teacher and getting the missing pages means you’ll have less time to complete the test and risks breaking your concentration.
Remember to write your name on all test papers
Even though this seems obvious, you may be so focused on completing the test that you forget to write your name on the paper. The last thing you want is to finally finish the test only to walk out the door and realize you forgot to write your name on it.
Read the entire test before you start
Reading the entire test before you start may seem like a waste of time, but here are some reasons why it’s worth it:
Make the most of perusal time
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your perusal time:
Carefully read each question
Carefully read the test instructions and questions before you start writing, and only write what you need to in order to answer the question. Don’t waste time writing everything you know about the topic if the question doesn’t ask you to.
Check the number of marks that each question is worth
Not only will this help you to determine which questions will take the most time to answer, it will also help you to structure your answer. For example, if a short essay question asks you about the main themes in a novel and is worth 3 marks, then you will have a better idea of how much to write and you will know to write about 3 different themes.
Answer the easiest questions first
This will help to build your confidence before you attempt the more difficult questions. Skip questions that you’re struggling with and come back to them later, but try to keep these to a minimum. Make a little mark next to any questions that you skip so that they’re easier to find, because you don’t want to waste time searching for them at the end of the test.
Answer every question
Don’t leave any questions blank. Answer every question, even if you’re not sure about the answer. This way, you still have a chance of getting some marks.
Keep an eye on the time
The teacher may let you know how much time is left every so often (e.g., when you’re halfway, when you have 10 minutes left etc.), but don’t rely on them. Wearing a watch may come in handy during a test, as you can keep a closer eye on the time.
Use all of the test time
Even if you finish the test before the time is up, don’t just sit there waiting or leave early. Spend the extra time wisely by going back through your answers and checking them. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Don’t be afraid to take a short break
You may think that taking a short 20-second break is a waste of time during a test, but just having a few seconds more to write won’t matter if the pressure gets to you and makes it difficult to concentrate. If you feel yourself starting to become overwhelmed, take a moment to try to relax. Put down your pen, relax your writing hand, drink some water if you brought a water bottle, close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
Don’t panic if you forget something
If you forget something that you need to remember to answer a question, don’t panic. Just mark it as a question that you’ll come back to later, then move on. You may remember the answer later, or another question in the test may remind you of it.
Ask the teacher for help with confusing questions
If you come across a question that is unclear or ambiguous, ask the teacher if they can clarify it.
Test taking tips & strategies: After the test
Take note of how you can improve next time
After the test, while it’s still fresh in your mind, think about what you can do differently next time to improve and write a few notes to remind yourself what you need to work on.
After all of that hard work, take some time to relax and celebrate with your friends and family. You may not have much time to celebrate just yet if you have more tests, but remember to take a break before you start preparing for the next one, especially if you have another one the next day.
Daisy--Our Guest Blogger's Biography
I was born in Preston, West Virginia. Shortly afterwards, my family moved to Flushing, New York, and that’s where I grew up. Though I have spent most of my life in NYC, people tell me that I am a mix of Southern and Northern culture, and I believe they’re right. I prefer to live out of my travel trunks. I have spent time in a number of European and Asian countries, and even managed to take a few trips to Africa. And these were no standard package excursions – I have always preferred to explore each country on my own; that’s how I learned so much about foreign cultures. Of course, I did not escape a stint in academia – first school, then university, finally a graduate degree. In addition to my university courses, I also had a rather important life experience. Rooming with both a Sudanese and Indian girl as my apartment-mates, I absorbed quite a bit of their culture as well, so I can add that to my fund of informal education. Now I am here to help people with their own writing, and – guess what? I am not finished yet with my own learning – it is too exciting to quit. There is so much to explore, and so many people to help with so many writing projects.
I have an exciting new endeavour coming out soon but I need your help now! I am working on an online resource to empower parents and help their families overcome struggles and be amazing together. If you could make time to fill out this (very!) brief survey I would be so grateful.
Once we have the results I will be able to use them to shape this new project. And if you would prefer to not receive future emails about this, please unsubscribe below and we will remove you from our list asap.
Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. As a small thank you for your participation, you'll be the first to hear about this exciting new project!
All the best,
Dr. Jillian Roberts
iToday, I had the chance to collaborate with the fabulous journalist, Arti Patel, at Global News on an article about nightmares:
Arti asked me some important questions about nightmares. Here are my answers:
Why is it more common for children and younger people to have nightmares?
It is more common for children and young people to have nightmares, because the psyche of a young person is not completely developed. When a new event is experienced, the child needs to process it and make sense of it. Much of this processing happens during our dreams. When a young person experiences a frightening or traumatic event, that event kind of bounces around inside of the psyche trying to be processed--trying to be made sense of. This why young people can have so many nightmares. Young people can be frightened by things you might not expect--triggered by things like something seen on TV or at an amusement park.
What can you do as a parent if your child as reoccurring nightmares?
It is important for a parent to distinguish between "night terrors" and "nightmares." Night terrors are more rare than a nightmare, and they can be more frightening to a parent than a nightmare. It is almost like a panic attack in the middle of deep sleep. The child may sit upright but not be fully conscious. A child will not remember a night terror the next day, just like a child may not recall sleep walking. A parent should not try and wake a child during a night terror. When my child had night terrors, I just laid beside him and tried to comfort him. You cannot "process" a night terror. You can though think through environmental triggers--like stress or fatigue and try and mitigate those.
Nightmares on the other hand often need to be processed. A child will wake up and be alert after a nightmare. Gently encourage your child to explain what was happening in the nightmare. Encourage your child to talk it through and comfort and reassure your child afterwards. Do not intensify fears, but rather push back at them. Make them smaller, and make them seem completely unlikely/unrealistic. For example, if your child had a nightmare of falling off a ride at an amusement park--reassure your child that those rides are safe. However, sometimes, nightmares are a reflag that something is not right in your child's life--for example, maybe they are being mistreated by someone (like a bully at school). If your child's nightmares give you a funny feeling, follow your parental intuition. Talk to the teacher. Talk to your family doctor. If you can, seek out a child psychologist or therapist.
What are some coping methods for children who tend to have frequent nightmares?
A really great coping method I have used is the "worry box." At night, children write down their worries and lock them in a box. Like with a key. The parent can take this box and "hold onto" those worries so the child does not need to. When I am seeing a child in therapy, I encourage the child to bring the worry box into therapy. We can then process the worries together--properly. I have also observed children have great luck with indigenous dreamcatchers--which are meant to capture the bad dreams so as to not disrupt the children's sleep. Like a placebo effect, some children are so impressionable that they truly believe they dreamcatcher will work, and because their belief is so strong--this can become a self-fufilling prophecy. Lastly, with really little ones (like 3 or 4 years old), who are worried that there are monsters under the bed, I have had good luck with creating a "monster-free spray". I would be sure and explain that there are no such things as monsters--but if your imagination is so active that you have trouble believing this, the spray will help your imagination settle down. This would be a little water bottle, with a cute homemade label, and a little lavender oil to make the water smell like nice. As part of the bedtime ritual, spray a little "monster free spray" around the bed to keep the monsters away!
Finally, good sleep needs good "sleep hygiene." Have a set bedtime. Have bedtime rituals you go through. Have a room with good airflow and little light. Read before bed, sing before bed. No technology. Encourage your family to have healthy bedtime routines. When a child is living between two parental homes--the parents need to work together to ensure the nighttime routines are consistent between both homes.
I am pleased to share that the enhanced & personally narrated ebook of "What Happens When Someone Dies" has arrived!
This is an enhanced ebook with a read-along function. Whether children are experiencing grief and loss for the first time or simply curious, it can be difficult to know how to talk to them about death. Using questions posed in a child's voice and answers that start simply and become more in-depth, this book allows adults to guide the conversation to a natural and reassuring conclusion. Additional questions at the back of the book allow for further discussion. Child psychologist Dr. Jillian Roberts designed the Just Enough series to empower parents/caregivers to start conversations with young ones about difficult or challenging subject matter. What Happens When a Loved One Dies? is the second book in the series.
For more information, visit www.justenoughseries.com.
I am excited to share that the enhanced & personally narrated ebook of "Where Do Babies Come From" has arrived!
An engaging introduction for very young children to the basic facts of life in a way that is gentle, age-appropriate and accessible. Child psychologist Dr. Jillian Roberts created the Just Enough series to help parents and caregivers approach difficult subjects with little ones. These primers offer a gentle and accessible starting point for conversations about important topics.
Research shows that children are learning about sex at an increasingly young age and often from undesirable sources. The Q&A format, with questions posed in the child's voice and answers starting simply and becoming gradually more in-depth, allows the adult to guide the conversation to a natural and satisfying conclusion. Additional questions at the back of the book allow for further discussion.
Where Do Babies Come From? is the first book in the Just Enough series. Other topics in the series will include death, cultural diversity and separation or divorce.
I'm excited to share with you that my 1st personally narrated & enhanced ebook has arrived! "What Makes Us Unique? Our First Talk About Diversity"
This is an enhanced ebook with a read-along function. When it comes to explaining physical, cultural and religious differences to children, it can be difficult to know where to begin. What Makes Us Unique? provides an accessible introduction to the concept of diversity, teaching children how to respect and celebrate people's differences and that ultimately, we are all much more alike than we are different. Additional questions at the back of the book allow for further discussion. Child psychologist Dr. Jillian Roberts designed the Just Enough series to empower parents/caregivers to start conversations with young ones about difficult or challenging subject matter. Other books in the series deal with birth, death, separation and divorce. For more information, visit www.justenoughseries.com.
I am so pleased that my latest book, "Why Do Families Change? Our First Talk About Divorce" has now been published! This marks the fourth book in the "Just Enough Series" by Orca Book Publishers.
As a practicing child psychologist, I have found that divorce can be an incredibly challenging time for parents and children alike. I could not find a good children's book about divorce, and so I decided to write my own!
I hope you find the book helpful. Also, below are some additional ideas about how to help your child cope during your divorce:
1) Ensure children are kept emotionally safe. Do not argue in front of them. Do not discuss stressful things (like splitting of assets) in front of them. Never. Ever.
2) Protect your children's hearts. Remember that they love both parents and they deserve to have good relationships with both parents. And grandparents etc. No matter how hurt you are, protect their relationship with their other parent and other side of the family. Hint: Instead of referring to your former spouse as your "ex," try calling them "my child's father/mother." This will set a better tone.
3) Keep things simple for your kids. Do not make your kids carry a back pack full of clothes on change-over days. Ensure each home has exactly what your child will need. As much as possible, make sure these things are the same--same bedding, same toys, same food--so as to make the transitions easier on your child. Also, keep the same routines, same dinner hour, same home work schedule, same bed times etc.
4) Help your children understand. Explain that you love your former spouse, that you will always love them--but you could not be happy living together. This change has been made to give each other a chance to be happy again. Above all, ensure that your child does not feel that they were to blame in any way!
5) Instil hope and a sense of security in your child. Say things like, "We will always be a family" and "There will be a some changes to get used to, but everything will be ok" and "No matter what happens, our love for you will never end!"