Saturday, November 5, 2022

Healthy Habits: Hiding in Plain Sight

 Half of all mental illness begins by age 14 – Let's equip our kids for better mental health


Can you share a little bit about how the PBS documentary, "Hiding in Plain Sight," is appropriate when talking about kids and mental health?

When I watched the documentary, I was impressed by how well equipped the kids were to talk about their emotional growth and journey. They dealt with tough times and tough topics honestly and without shame. 

Their modeling of that behavior for other kids is very powerful. Kids see that its okay to talk about mental health. That opens up an opportunity to talk with kids about their own emotional concerns and questions. 

And even if your children don’t experience mental health issues, they likely know others who do. Watching this documentary helps kids build knowledge and empathy for connecting with those around them. 

A significant amount of mental health issues start before kids ever leave home. Can you share some ways that families can be aware of mental health issues that may be affecting their own kids?

The first step is to bring emotions into the conversation. Parents can help guide children to identify what they’re feeling as a stepping-stone to deeper conversations. The first step is to give developmentally appropriate language to emotions. It can be helpful to first identify what physical experiences are commonly associated with the basic emotions. 

Here are some examples:

  • Anger is often associated with tight muscles, clenched hands/jaw, and/or feeling like you’re going to burst. 

  • Shame is often associated with nausea, a sense of dread, and/or the urge to hide. 

  • Sadness is often associated with feeling tired, feeling cold or heavy, feeling numb, and/or crying frequently. 

Once a shared language has been developed, deeper discussions about emotions can be had, especially with older children, such as wondering what prompted an emotion--is the anger stemming from an obstructed goal or is it a response to a perceived attack?-- and understanding what thoughts might follow that emotion--does sadness lead to thoughts of worthlessness or hopelessness? 

It’s important to remember that emotions in and of themselves are not good or bad, they’re simply experiences that contain information. If you as a parent start to notice patterns that are distressing for your child/the family unit or don’t quite seem to match the situation’s intensity, that could be an indicator that seeking counsel from trained providers could be helpful.

And always, you as a parent are the expert in your children. Trust your intuition if something doesn’t seem right about your child’s response to their current situation or their long-term development. 

How does SEL benefit everyone, not just people with significant mental health issues?

Our emotions are half of our experience as humans, so we’re only fully equipped to navigate our complex social world when we have a solid understanding of both the emotional and rational components of who we are. 

Imagine traveling to a country where you only know half the language—let’s say you only know verbs and nouns. You might be able to get around at a basic level, but there’s also a lot of room for miscommunication. For example, if someone asks if you’ll be home for dinner and all you can say is “eat going car home,” are you saying: “I’m eating in the car on the way home” or “I’m going home to eat”? If you could add in the other components of language (grammar/syntax) you’d open up your world to clearer communication and deeper connection. 

The SEL framework does just that—it essentially equips people with the different components of human interaction that allow us to experience life in a richer, more intentional way. Everyone can benefit from a deeper understanding of experiences and greater clarity in communication.

Research repeatedly shows that strong social and emotional skills help everyone lead more effective and fulfilling lives in school, work, relationships, and communities. For parents, building your own skills will make you a better parent and help you pass those skills to your kids. 


Dr. Reigna El-Yashruti is a clinical psychologist based in the Boston area. Her work experience and bi-cultural background have led to her fundamental belief that a person’s identity and understanding of how they fit within their system is a core component of their growth. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions influence one another, and our environment inevitably shapes how we think, feel, and behave.

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