Mental Wellbeing #2 of 2: Parents, listen without prejudice!

Last week I wrote about the unfortunate, ongoing trend of parents who don’t listen to their kids, invariably leading many of them into depression.

Or worse.

Today, I want to share some practical strategies to help parents, should mental health issues ever surface in our children. It’ll also be my way to archive valuable info to prepare myself if ever I need to know what to do!

These strategies were taken mainly from a feature in our local daily published 12 days ago, with further insights from a local mental health website, as well as further research done by yours truly.

But first, let’s see what are some tell-tale signs of mental issues we as parents ought to keep a lookout for.

{PS Am headlining the following sections using familiar song titles. Cos it helps my future recall, and maybe yours too *wink*}

1. “Signs o’ our times” [Prince]

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Tell-tale signs of mental health issues among children can be physical, emotional, behavioural or cognitive.

They include sudden weight loss (or gain). Loss of concentration in school. Loss of appetite. Stomachaches. Irritability. Agitation. Insomnia. Nightmares. Expressing concern about the future. Even crying often and being more clingy.

Also, if they occur without plausible reasons to explain the sudden change in behaviour observed, then parents would need to sit up and pay heed.

Note that all these should only be seen as signs if they are persistent and not one-off.

So two days of depression wouldn’t be persistent, while two weeks probably would. Six weeks of anxiety might not constitute persistent, but at least six months of it most likely would.

Of course many could simply be age-appropriate and ‘momentary’ fears too, like a visit to the dentist or joining a class for the first time. So while we shouldn’t ignore tell-tale signs, we shouldn’t accept them carte blanche either; some discretion must still be exercised.

Yes, fellow parents. I’m afraid the road to caregiving wisdom and mental wellbeing is anything but smooth!

Then again, few things in life of true worth and value ever are.

Once we’ve established the “authenticity” of the tell-tale signs, we must now…

2. “Listen without prejudice” [George Michael]

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Experts advise that even before we take the time to listen, we must first reflect on our own stance towards issues of mental health. Some self-reflecting may reveal stigmatizing beliefs such as youths are attention-seeking or just plain weak.

To that I would add that this reflection process might even benefit us the parents.

It might reveal how we came to embrace such beliefs in the first place. Could be a result of how we were raised, or the societal/cultural/religious mores we grew up with.

Most likely both.

And if these have been the obstacles hindering us from listening to our kids, then it might be high time to review, renounce and replace them altogether!

After all, we’re reaching out to…

3. “Listen to your (their) heart” [Roxette]

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Next, having reflected and divested ourselves of unhelpful beliefs, it’s time to approach our kids on the topic of mental wellness with what can best be described as “gentle curiosity.”

Rather than confront them “head-on”, much better to “come alongside” them to tenderly probe what they’re thinking about. And while listening, adopt a calm posture whenever possible so it doesn’t look like the Spanish Inquisition. Think of it more as a gentle Swedish massage session than a painful New York Rolfing treatment!

At all times, we need to be compassionate, non-judgmental and open-minded to hold and provide a safe space for honest conversations with our kids.

That way, they can better feel validated and, hopefully, be more willing to share what’s going on in their minds and lives.

4. “All I ask of you” [Phantom of the Opera]

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As the conversation progresses, and we employ good listening skills, it’s important to also ask curious questions.

These could be phrased in gentle, neutral ways like “Can you help me understand how you feel?” or “What are your thoughts on…?”

Asking isn’t hard but asking well, is!

So best to plan carefully beforehand, although it’s important to keep the conversation open and reciprocal too, meaning questions ought to flow naturally rather than come forth sounding overly-scripted.

Of course we should acknowledge alongside our kids that it can be difficult to open up, answer and share.

So what might help is to say stuff like “It can be frightening to talk about this.”

Just to help ease the potentially tense moments, preferably throwing in for good measure…

5. “The look of love” [Dusty Springfield]

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The final strategy is all about looking out for emotional cues and adjusting our responses accordingly.

If the kid looks distressed, agitated or ill at ease, pause and tend to his or her emotions first. The conversation may need to be postponed until a more opportune time.

It’s far more important to let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they matter more than the conversation itself. So if that means maintaining a look of love and concern, peppered with lots of tight hugs, then go for it.

Let them know that mental health issues are no different from physical ones. Both deserve equal attention and there’s no shame in confessing to having them.

6. “Help me make it through the night” [Michael Buble]

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To wrap up, I must say that however hard it might be to acknowledge it, the reality is that kids should also be told who and where else they can seek help (school counsellors, licensed therapist, etc). Especially if our relationship isn’t strong enough for them to open up to us and have such difficult conversations. More so if they don’t believe that we listen!

Of course, I definitely think parents should be present in at least a few of these sessions their kids would have with trained experts. Most experts would even require it.

Alright, I think that covers the strategies.

So if ever we need to, my fellow parent, we know what to do now, right?

Don’t forget, our kids are counting on us.

We got this!

And it begins when we LISTEN first!

{Caveat: I’m no certified mental health professional, so please don’t let this be the only place you’re finding out about this important issue and what to do. Check out dedicated websites by your local health authorities that speak to this matter and get equipped. Don’t wait til it’s too late!}


Getting help (and someone to listen) in Singapore

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am – 12am)

Mental well-being

Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: (Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm)
Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Samaritans of Singapore:  1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm) 
Silver Ribbon Singapore:  6386-1928/6509-0271  (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)/ (Mon to Thu, 2.30pm to 7pm and Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)


TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252  (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 (Daily, 10am to 10pm)

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