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How do I (should I?) talk to my son about my MI. He's 6. I am in a depressive episode and don't want him thinking that my struggles are his fault. I don't know what to tell him ...

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My take.....The age of 6 may be too early for such a discussion.  Just "be there" for him as much as you can in your circumstances.  I am more concerned about you and the possibility of your blaming yourself for what you may wrongly perceive as your own inadequacies as a parent.   I speak as one whose mother was mentally ill, and as a mentally ill parent myself.  There will be plenty of time for discussions when he is older and you are in a better place.

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This is tricky, because children are walking minefields of potential for things to go horribly wrong with parenting (says the father of two). Fortunately, they're also incredibly resilient, with both bodies and minds made of rubber, the latter tending to impart a certain stubborn willfulness in the teen years.

Mine are 23 and 21, respectively, and we are even now working through the aftermath of them growing up with a father who suffered from mental illness. The fact was not concealed from them; I did my best to explain, plainly and factually, what was happening to me and why, and what I was doing about it, so that they understood that it wasn't their doing. It seemed doubly important to me that they understand the nature of MI and how to deal with it face-on, because I could see the signs of it in them as well, even before they were themselves formally diagnosed. I didn't want either of them to have to suffer through a childhood and adolescence the way I did in confusion and mental torment because I had no idea what was wrong with my own head.

To one extent, I was successful. Both of my kids developed cognitive skills early on to identify and cope with anxiety and depressive thinking, and developed a vocabulary to talk about what goes on in their heads. They're a light-year ahead of where I was at their age in terms of getting a handle on my mental health.

The problem is, none of my factual, by-the-book explanations made up for the times when Dad would unexpectedly snap and become furious, or when Dad would become unresponsive, or when Dad was unable to show the kind of positive reaction a child needs to build self-esteem. Sometimes actions speak louder. I wasn't good at explanations after-the-fact; I was usually only good at explanations in the abstract. It also didn't help that as an Aspie I couldn't always read in their expressions that I had hurt them.

In hindsight, I would say the following:

• Should you talk to him about it? Yes. It's vital that he understands what's going on with you. This page from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has some good information about discussing MI with kids.

• Remember that explaining is not enough. He is still a child, and no matter how well you explain what is happening to you, he does not have the maturity or experience to cope with it as an adult could. The explanation does not, in other words, get you off the hook. You still have to be responsible for how your MI may affect the child, and do everything you can to minimize its impact.

• Make use of any help you've got. If another person is involved in the child's care, make sure that you're working together to give the child support and reassurance when you're on the ropes. Even if your own behavior in the moment may be frightening or disconcerting, the voice of another adult calmly explaining your situation and reassuring the child may carry a weight your own would not at that moment.

• Don't wait for your child to come to you with concerns. That may not happen until much too much time has passed - like, 21 years.

Good luck. Six-year-olds are the devil - they have questions.

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Thanks, that's helpful. I feel like I have to say something .. age appropriate of course ...

My mom is bipolar so I've been through it from a child's perspective and that makes it harder in some ways.

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