When children are sick with physical illnesses like cancer, the entire community rallies around the family. Friends bring casseroles, offer to watch the child’s siblings while the parents spend time with their sick child, and flood the family with tangible signs of love and support like flowers, cards, and balloons.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. In my writing, I’m always looking for a better way to phrase things (I’ve revised this sentence four times). As a teacher, I’m always tweaking my lesson plans and assignments to try to make them more effective and inclusive. And as a mother of four children, I sometimes agonize over being the best parent I can be, knowing firsthand that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child. Some days, that means I’ve been pretty anxious, stressed, and sad. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in parenting a child with mental illness is that it’s okay to doubt myself—and even more importantly, it’s also okay to trust myself too.
I’ll never forget the day that my then four-year-old son Eric told me he just wanted to be a zero. “It hurts too much, Mom,” he said, referring to the anguish of sensory overload that sometimes caused him to melt down in public or lash out at his preschool peers. I hugged my little Buzz Lightyear close—Eric loved his hero so much that it was hard for me to talk him into changing out of his Buzz-themed pajamas. What could I do to help my child?
If you are parenting an adolescent or teenager, you’ve heard of the Netflix Original Series 13 Reasons Why. Chances are, your children have too. The television series, based on a novel by the same name, is a fictional story of a teenage girl’s suicide and other sensitive issues associated with it. The show has quite unceremoniously placed the issue of teen suicide in the front and center in our community conversations. However, many of us parents are discovering the difficulty of having conversations about teen suicide and its representation in 13 Reasons Why in our own homes with our own children. The mere introduction of something so tragic has left parents wondering what to do. Do you let your kid watch the series? Will it cause your child to romanticize suicide? The answer might come easier with some guidance.
There is a persistent swirl of myths, inaccuracies, fears and assumptions that surround mental illnesses and their treatment. The origins of these beliefs are vague, but our mission is clear: educate adults and children about mental illness, start conversations, and promote appropriate treatment and care for children experiencing a range of mental, emotional or behavioral disorders. To accomplish this, we work hand-in-hand with parents, caregivers, physicians, therapists and the children themselves. In our work, these are the most common myths we encounter, and the facts that disprove them.
Parental intuition is a powerful force; one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Imagine if you instinctively knew something was wrong with your child, but everywhere you sought out answers – at your child’s school, at the doctor’s office, among family members and your friends – you were brushed off with a simple, “Don’t worry, your child is fine.” That is, until your child clearly isn’t, and is diagnosed with mental illness.