Talking to kids about a loved one’s mental illness can be challenging… but it can also be a lot of fun!

As a parent, being diagnosed with a mental illness can be frightening and confusing… but what about our kids? Kids have a lot of feelings and questions when someone they love has a mental illness.

And when kids aren’t given all the information, they fill in the blanks.

This is where Kids in Control can help. Kids in Control is an 8-week program offered by the BC Schizophrenia Society that provides a safe place for children aged 8-12 who have a family member with mental illness. They learn about mental illness, gain strategies on how to create healthy boundaries, and take care of themselves, and find ways to process their experiences in a healthy way.

Kids in Control helps participants understand the 3 C’s

  • You didn’t CAUSE it: “My family member’s mental illness is not my fault.”
  • You can’t CHANGE it: “It’s not my responsibility to fix my family member.”
  • You can only take CARE of yourself: “What do I have control of? I can take care of myself!”

This past Spring’s Kids in Control course started with 8 children—6 girls and 2 boys—ranging from 8 to 11 years old; two were siblings, and all were bright-eyed and eager to answer my first question.

“Who knows someone with depression?” Everyone’s hands shot up. I went on to explain that this is very common, and one of the reasons we are all here is to learn about depression and other mental illnesses.

“Who has someone they love with a mental illness?” Again, everyone’s hands shot up, along with many unanswered questions. “Why is my Mom so sad?” “Can I catch depression?” “Did I do something wrong?”

As facilitators, we reassured the kids that they can ask us anything and we will provide answers and help them learn ways to cope with their situation.

“Both my girls attended this program and brought their cousin. They learned about substance use disorder and other mental illnesses. They absolutely loved going, and they said it was really fun and the teachers were really kind. They talk about mental illness and mental health a lot now. They know it’s not their fault and it’s not the fault of the person who has it. We talk openly about being compassionate and how to set boundaries with their Mom. Our family thanks you all so much and they want to come back next time! Thank you for everything.”

– Parent of a Kids in Control participant

The best part: kids coming out of their shells and bonding with each other

By the end of the 8-week course, every child took part in the program—even the shiest of the children came out of their shells and participated in activities. The kids told us that they felt safe and supported. No one was obligated to share or participate, but the knowledge that they are not alone in having a loved one with mental illness was equally as valuable.

How to Register for Kids in Control

Each 2-hour weekly class can take up to 10 participants. Referrals can be made throughout the year by social workers, counsellors, school counsellors, and family members and caregivers.

For more information about these programs, including Teens in Control (for ages 12-18), please contact:

Kids & Teens in Control Manager

Written by: Shelley Jensen, Kids & Teens in Control Coordinator/Facilitator