Life

Royals are right when it comes to teaching kids about mental health

Prince William and his family deserve much credit for speaking out about their own grief following the death of Princess Diana and for encouraging parents to teach children to be open about their mental health, writes Leona O'Neill

Prince William, right, Kate the Duchess of Cambridge, centre, and Prince Harry attend a Heads Together event in London last week

IT'S not often that I look to Prince William for guidance on life and parenting, it has to be said, but I read an interview with him last week and thought the man made a lot of sense.

He was talking about his children, vowing that they will be brought up to be open and honest about their emotions and not live by what he described as traditional British stoicism.

“There may be a time and a place for the ‘stiff upper lip,’ but not at the expense of your health,” he said in the new interview with CALMzine, the magazine for British mental health organization CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).

Afterwards I watched an interview with him, his brother Prince Harry as well as his wife Kate, openly discussing mental health and grief and how the death of their mother Princess Diana impacted their mental health. The three of them spent all last week raising awareness around a new campaign to end stigma around mental health – The Heads Together campaign. It is a partnership with experienced and inspiring charities that provide front line mental health support to people who may need it, while raising awareness and tackling stigma.

There's probably no-one on Earth who understands the 'stiff upper lip' better than Prince William. The British royal family's aversion to emotion is now legendary. They live by strict protocols on behaviour; many of the rules are hangovers from stuffy Victorian times and beyond and have no place in today's society, never mind family life.

In some of the interviews Prince William did last week she said that he and wife will allow both their kids – George and Charlotte – to 'grow up feeling able to talk about their emotions and feelings'. I was delighted to see he has shunned hundreds of years of silly tradition in favour of raising healthy, happy kids.

Prince William is right. We need to teach our kids from a young age that it is OK to speak about our emotions. They need to feel that it is perfectly normal to discuss any worries they have or feelings that might be concerning them. Make processing feelings in a healthy way part of everyday life in our kids' early years and they won't struggle with it when they reach adulthood. Manning up or, as Prince William puts it, adapting a 'stiff upper lip' will help no-one.

His brother Harry spoke about seeking counselling to help him with the grief he felt over the death of his mother. When young people look at him – with his healthy bank account, jet-set lifestyle, palace pads, flash cars and supermodel girlfriends – they might think he's got it all sorted. I think it was brave of him to say that despite all these things, he was struggling. It gives others hope that they are not alone and that mental health issues can hit hard regardless of your circumstances in life.

Our children, particularly boys, are expected to be tough, to be strong, take things on the chin without showing emotion, to face fear without question, to be manly, even from a young age.

Society expects them to control their emotions, downplay their vulnerability and even be ashamed to cry. For males over the age of 10, showing natural emotion is often seen as a weakness.

Boys and men are rarely given a platform to speak about their pain. Instead they are expected to suppress their fears, insecurities and their feelings of loneliness and sadness. The message to dampen down feelings is often marketed to them at home, in school, from their peer groups and in all society.

Young men feel just as many emotions as young ladies. They do not feel any less heartache or pain; they are no less vulnerable. They feel the same fear and face similar challenges.

Our young ladies are, granted, better at talking things out. But as girls get older and society's pressures build on them, the emphasis is on 'having it all' – the perfect career, body, life, happiness, love and family – can also lead to problems. There is still too much stigma surrounding those who say they are not coping.

Teaching our kids that it's OK to show emotion, that they are not weak if they share their feelings, that it's OK to cry or wear their hurt on their sleeve has to be gently introduced at a young age, so that when they hit their teens and adulthood it's just how it is – normal.

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