Talking about mental health with your children can be hard.
We worry that we don’t know what to say. We worry that we will say something to upset them.
However, one in five children experiences an impairing mental health disorder that can be treatable. The earlier you have the conversation with your child, the better you can respond and get them help.
How do you get started talking about your child’s mental health?
- Create an open environment. As with any type of conversation, it is important to create the habit of talking about mental health before we are concerned or a problem comes up.
It’s okay to not have the answers to everything, but it may be helpful for you to do some reading about the topic before beginning the conversation. This can help you feel more
confident and prepared to talk to your child.
- Define mental health. Have conversations with your children about what mental health is:
“Mental health is how we think, feel, and act. Mental health also guides how we handle difficult moments, make decisions and how we treat others.”
Talk about how some children experience emotions so strongly, for weeks at a time, that it makes it difficult to succeed in their day-to-day life. This is when they need professional support to cope.
- Normalize. Let your children know that we all feel emotions and that even young people can have difficulty navigating through tough moments or feelings. You can share examples of moments you have had a hard time and how you cope. Remember, kids learn from watching us!
How do I bring up a concern?
- Look at timing. Pick a time when everyone is calm and emotions are not high. Ask permission to start the conversation and if your child is not ready, ask them when a good time would be. Make sure you’re in a private area with low interruptions.
- Support and validate. Remind your child you love them and you are there to support them, no matter what. Validate any emotions or experiences they share with. Sometimes, what seems silly to adults means the world to a child.
- Be objective. Share what you have noticed without judgment. Stay objective by describing the situation.
- For example: “I’ve noticed your grades have changed…” or “You don’t spend time with your friends anymore…”
- Open-ended questions. Then you can ask open-ended questions to express interest and worry. Download these questions for ideas on how to ask about concerns around their mental health.
How do I decide what to do next?
- Seek help. If your child is experiencing symptoms that occur most days for over two weeks, and they are getting in the way of daily life, it may be helpful to seek help from a mental health professional. If you are not sure where to start, try talking to their school or pediatrician.
- Decide together. Include your child in the decision-making process, especially if they are older.
- Explain what therapy is (for example, “A therapist will help you with how you are feeling and teach you ways to cope so that you can accomplish the things you want to do!”).
- Give them space to ask questions or share their concerns.
- Create hope. Let your child know there is hope and ways you can work together to get through this. Ask them what they need from you and make a plan together of ways to start making changes or improvements in their lives.
If you or your child need immediate help due to having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting "START" to 741-741. If there is an immediate safety concern, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Related resources to help with the conversation: