Talking to Kids About Mental Health

Here’s the bad news: Many millions of children in the United States deal with some type of mental illness. Here are some numbers:

9.4% of children aged 2-17 years (approximately 6.1 million) have received an ADHD diagnosis.
7.4% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.5 million) have a diagnosed behavior problem.
7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.
3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression.

Source: Children’s Mental Health

That’s a lot of kids! But here’s the good news: stigma around mental illness and psychological disorders is decreasing as more programs take aim at eradicating incorrect assumptions about mental health disorders and their treatments.

One of the best ways we can combat stigma around mental illness is by talking to our kids early and often about mental health and illness, as well as psychological treatment. The more we normalize these types of discussions, the better. Here are some tips for talking to your kids about mental health:


Be open about your own emotions. One way to help your kids become used to sharing their emotions, is by sharing your own on a regular basis. In a developmentally appropriate manner (i.e., using simple brief concepts with young kids, and progressively more complex words and concepts with older kids), try talking clearly about your own feelings: “Geez, that hurt my feelings when I didn’t get invited to Jenny’s birthday party,” or “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with all the work deadlines I have this month,” or “I am so proud of the hard work you put into that homework assignment”


Be open about how you manage your psychological health. Try sharing with your kids what you do to manage your mental mental health. Sharing things like: “I’m going to be taking a walk this evening. It was a tough day at work, and the fresh air helps me feel less stressed.” or “I am feeling a little down today, I think I might call Grandma. Talking to her always helps me feel better.” Again, we want to keep these conversations developmentally appropriate, and our kids aren’t our therapists. However, sharing the healthy strategies we use to manage our emotions will provide them a template for when they need strategies to manage their own psychological health.


Make talking about mental health an everyday thing. We don’t need to talk about the state of our kids’ mental health every single day, but it’s best if it can be a pretty regular occurrence – say, a couple of times per week, for example. We want to get to a point where speaking about emotions and mental health is just as easy and normal as talking about the soccer team, your favorite TV show or the new super hero movie you want to see. Here are some questions to get you started:
”What are you excited about these days?”
“What’s on your mind right now?”
“How would you describe your mood today?”
“What are you worried about?”

The possibilities are endless, and each family needs to find their own, unique language for talking about mental health. But here’s a quick tip: Try asking questions that are open-ended, these tend to produce much more interesting conversations than those that can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.”

Promoting Health Body Image

https://www.produceforkids.com/episode-19-promoting-positive-body-image-with-kids/

I was recently interviewed for the awesome Healthy Family Project podcast by Produce for Kids. If you haven’t checked out the podcast yet, you should! It’s full of interesting, helpful episodes.

I love being interviewed for podcasts. Maybe it’s that I like to talk a lot, but they feel much more useful than short, tip-filled articles. Especially when the topic is as nuanced as body image. I also love that you can listen while doing something else like taking a walk or driving to work. Here are some other episodes of Healthy Family Project that I’ve been a part of:

https://www.produceforkids.com/episode-8-anxiety-around-back-to-school/
https://www.produceforkids.com/episode-3-managing-screen-time/

Power Your Lunchbox

It’s back to school (and tutoring and soccer and football and piano and lacrosse) time!

Even though my kids start school in mid-August, I don’t really take the school year seriously until September. Probably not great, but I just can’t get my mind around dealing with homework, bus schedules and tests when it’s 100 degrees. So now that we’re into September and the mornings are cool (at least here in Colorado!) I’m thinking about how to prepare healthy meals and snacks for my family. And (maybe more importantly) how to help them make healthy choices for themselves.

This year I’m partnering with Produce for Kids and taking their Power Your Lunchbox Promise. Check it all out here:

Basically, Produce for Kids provides lots of easy, yummy ideas for lunches (and snacks!), you make the promise, and they and their partners donate to Feeding America. It’s a win-win-win!

So as I made the promise this year, I again focused on snack foods rather than lunch foods. My kids all buy their lunch at school, so what we really need to focus on is a healthy, easy snack time. Here’s what we came up with this year:

Energy Bites

I don’t have a formal recipe, but I’ve been making these yummy snacks for years. I determine what goes in them based on what’s in my pantry. Here’s what I gathered today:

Sun-Maid Raisins, almonds, oat bran, oatmeal, a few mini chocolate chips I found in the way back, and peanut butter. In the past I’ve also added dried peaches, coconut, cereal and yogurt-covered raisins.  Anything goes as long as it’s small:

Once you’ve gathered all the odds and ends, simply dump everything (except the peanut butter) into a bowl:

Mix that all up, then slowly add the peanut butter:

Stir the mixture around until it is combined. Test the mixture to see if you can roll it into a ball that will stick together. Does it come apart? Add more peanut butter. Go overboard on the peanut butter? Add more dry ingredients. Here’s what mine looked like:

It’s ready to roll!

Grab a sheet pan and cover with foil. You will also need a scoop of some kind:

One down, about 100 more to go! The nice thing is, the kids can help:

I usually store these in the freezer, they stay nice and firm that way. And when the kids are ready, they can pack them up for a healthy, energy-filled snack on the go:

They’re easy to eat, and actually fill them up until dinner – which seems to be getting later and later as they get older!

Check out more recipe ideas and make the Promise:

 

 

Kids, Appetite and Medication

I’m so excited to be joining up with Produce for Kids for our new series: Ask a Psychologist. Last month I wrote a piece about how to cope when your child’s appetite is affected by medication. Here’s the intro:

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 6.1 million children in the United States had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the United States as of 2016. ADHD is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to maintain attention and concentration. Those diagnosed with ADHD can struggle to get work done in a timely fashion at home, work and school; social relationships can be tough to maintain as well.

Luckily, there are several, well-researched options for the treatment of ADHD. Behavioral therapy/counseling is typically recommended as a first option. This type of therapy involves a psychologist working with both the child and their family to implement strategies to increase desired behaviors (following directions, controlling impulses) and decrease those that are undesirable (disruptive behaviors). Accommodations at school are also an effective line of treatment. These might include: allowing for movement breaks throughout the course of the day, allowing extra time for tests, and strategically positioning the child in the classroom to reduce distraction.

Another option for the treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD is stimulant medication. Medication can be an important and effective tool for families, but a not-infrequent side effect is loss of appetite. If you notice your child’s appetite changing, or diminishing after starting a stimulant medication, it’s important that you contact the pediatrician or psychiatrist prescribing the medication immediately so that you can troubleshoot together. Some ideas your health care provider might suggest include:

New Podcast Coming!

An exciting new podcast is coming in June! Produce for Kids will be launching this new podcast and will showcase current bloggers, Advisory Board members and others.

“With more than 300 blog posts on produceforkids.com and a panel of 12 dedicated expert blog contributors, it only made sense to take this content and bring it to life in audio form,” Amanda Keefer, director of marketing communications at Produce for Kids, said in the release. 

“Our audience is evolving, and we intend to do the same, providing them with the information they need in the way they are choosing to receive it.”

and

Blog and future podcast contributors include registered dietitians Katie Serbinski, Holley Grainger and Jode Danen; psychologist Stephanie Smith; plant-based parenting expert Cory Warren; and meal prep planner Brenda Thompson.

Stay tuned!

Talking to Kids About Weight

Fat. Skinny. Over weight. Underweight. Chunky. Slight. Slender. Normal. Chubby. Short. Huge. Teeny. Average. Muscular. Frumpy. Flabby. Round. Skeletal. Portly. Tubby. Stick figure.

There are a lot of words we use to describe bodies. Ours, other people’s, everyone’s. And while we know that weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) can be an important piece of information when talking about someone’s overall health – those numbers are also so emotionally loaded that it can be tough to have a conversation about them without ending up with hurt feelings – no matter what our size.

I have recently started a new series over at Produce for Kids:

ASK THE PSYCHOLOGIST

My first column went live not long ago and is about this very topic. Here’s the question:

Many schools across the U.S. check-in yearly with kids’ BMI (Body Mass Index). What if your child has a bigger build and is a very athletic/healthy eater but falls into the BMI alert category (of being overweight or obese) simply based on weight/height ratio. Do you have any recommendations on talking to kids about this touchy subject? 

Want to read my answer? Check out the whole article here:

Power Your Lunchbox: Leftovers Edition

With 2 middle school-ers in my house, mealtime has taken on a bit of a different meaning. I can no longer expect my older kids to eat whatever I put in front of them (well, maybe I could expect that, but I would spend a lot of time being disappointed). Nowadays, the food that comes out of my kitchen has to be yummy, healthy, not embarrassing, and cool. This is made particularly difficult because what qualifies as “cool” and “not embarrassing” changes all the time – sometimes within the span of a few hours. It’s exhausting.

So, when Produce for Kids sent out their Power Your Lunchbox Promise (see more about the awesome program here) I decided to enlist my middle school-ers to help make some healthy, cool lunches they might actually eat!

For reasons I will surely never understand, leftovers are currently all the rage in the middle school lunchroom.  Perhaps it’s because they feel cool to have access to microwaves now that they’re out of elementary school? Perhaps it’s because sandwiches are too square? I honestly have no idea. But we’re going to go with it.

Here are 3 days worth of lunches made from leftovers:

We started with this sorry-looking pork chop with peach jam sauce:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We sliced it up, and added it to this yummy-looking salad:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Definitely looks cool to me! (Disclaimer: A few days later my daughter informed me that salads with salmon and berries on top are now the lunch of choice for the cool kids in the lunchroom. Seriously?)

Here’s another one. We started with half of a turkey sausage, and an odd turkey meatball leftover from an Italian feast the night before:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Found an old roll to make a sandwich:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chopped up some pineapple – and we had a delicious lunch! Perfect for cold, January days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This last one is the best, because my oldest actually made the dinner all by herself.  She is currently taking what we used to call Home Ec as an elective (yes, it’s a very cool class). She had made this veggie stir fry earlier in the week and was super eager to make it for the family:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was very good. We ate it with tilapia and a veggie egg roll. Yum:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She then told me that the stir fry was good hot or cold! Yea! Another great candidate for leftover lunch:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was even willing to share with her younger sister! Miracles can happen, people!

For more healthy and cool ideas for your lunchbox, head over to Produce for Kids:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to take the Power Your Lunchbox Promise? Check it all out here: