Mental Illness FHE Lesson

[ 2 ] Comments

by jendoop

Family portraitOver the past month I’ve been pulling together the Peculiar Minds series, searching for writers, editing essays, and thinking about mental illness daily. When pondering what kind of family home evening lesson we should have I felt impressed to share some of what I’ve learned with my family.

I started by asking my children about emotions; what are they, and why do we have them?

The conversation was more illuminating and abstract than I anticipated with 5 to 18-year-old children. We settled on the idea that if we didn’t have emotions, we wouldn’t be motivated to do anything. We wouldn’t change our behavior, we wouldn’t grow and progress. Maybe your family will come up with a different answer.

Next we talked about how we have both positive and negative emotions that function like two sides of the same coin. One example is taking a test. While preparing we might feel anxious or fearful: negative emotions. Often we would like to avoid feeling this way, which can lead to procrastination and eventually greater anxiety. Those negative feelings change once the test is over, we might feel relieved, peaceful, or excited because we’ve done well: positive emotions. Would our positive emotions feel as good if we didn’t experience the negative emotions beforehand?

This leads to 2 Nephi 2:11:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

Next we took turns sharing our emotions about past family events (summer vacation, a recent move, etc). We each took a turn sharing about each event, with no wrong answers! It was important that there was no sarcasm, teasing, or confrontation. Each person’s feelings were valid even if they were different, or incomprehensible, from someone else’s. We pointed out that you can’t see a person’s emotions — they don’t always show on their faces — so we can’t know how other people feel unless we listen to them.

We concluded our family home evening by talking about how sharing our emotions builds our relationships, even if those emotions are uncomfortable. If we are going to be together forever we want to have good relationships.

So by now you might be wondering how this lesson was at all about mental illness. I believe that if my children feel comfortable sharing their emotions with me and my husband, both the negative and the positive, we are creating a supportive environment in our home wherein they will feel safe and loved if their emotions become problematic. Through this we also teach them how to listen and support others who have both negative and positive emotions.

If you’d like you could add specific information about mental illnesses to your FHE, but because of the young age of some of our children we didn’t discuss it at that time.

After the younger children ran off to get dessert, my oldest daughter lingered to talk more. She said that the lesson wasn’t necessarily fun, but she appreciated being able to talk through things and understand how other family members felt differently from her. I took that as a sign of a successful family night, along with the spirit which was there to testify of Heavenly Father’s love for our family.

 

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photo by: rachel_pics

About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

2 Responses to Mental Illness FHE Lesson

  1. Paul says:

    An awesome lesson, Jen. Practicing the sharing of emotions is a great opportunity to share with our children.

  2. Michelle says:

    I absolutely love that you connected with your kids in this way. They are lucky to have a mom who cares about them so much.

    My parents did the best they could with what they knew, but I never learned that it was ok to feel negative emotions. I never really learned how to process them. They sort of processed me! I always equated them to unworthiness in my mind. But ironically, I didn’t know how to process the negative emotions so I would stay stuck in them. It was a vicious cycle.

    I love how you just let them share how they feel about things that have happened, with no wrong answers.

    I think the test example for older kids could also be an interesting opportunity. I see a layer that could be explored….where you note that anxiety can build and can even lead to more problem-causing behaviors (procrastination and such) but then it sort of feels like the ‘solution’ is getting the test over with (which may or may not have good results for one thing, and…read on). We as mortals so often want the solution to be ‘out there’ but in truth there is a deeper potential solution of learning to recognize the negative emotions, process them, and not have them drive unhealthy behavior. These are tools I wish I had had as a child, and tools I’m trying to help my kids learn and practice.

    I want to be careful not to imply that mental illness can simply be controlled or avoided, but I do think one of the ways mental illness can become more embedded (where nurture can exacerbate nature) is when we look to external things to change/reduce our feelings rather than learn healthy tools to listen to them and learn from them and learn not to be controlled by them.

    I think so much of that really starts, again, with having a safe place to process emotions. Of course, that safe place doctrinally is always God, but I think we all crave human safety, too. And I think many of us understand God through our experiences with others, especially in our families. So again, kudos to you, mom, for trying to create such a space for your kids.

    Just want to add, though, that I firmly believe that we are here to be raised by imperfect parents, because eventually we each do ultimately need to learn how to turn to God. I just wanted to say that lest you feel any undue pressure as a mom. I have to give myself permission all the time to be human, and trust that God will make up the difference for where I lack, just as He is doing with me for where my parents may not have known tools to teach me. They did so much to improve upon past generations, and my hope is to just try to continue a forward trend, if only a little bit, with God’s help and grace.

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