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12 Ways to Talk About Mental Health with your Child

Many mental health issues manifest themselves in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. Recognizing and acting on the early warning signs of mental illness may make a difference, but it begins by removing stigma through positive and honest conversations about mental health. Here are some tips on talking with your child about mental health, whether it pertains to you, them, or someone else in your family.

  1. Be open and positive about the importance of mental health; show it’s okay for your child to display their feelings by talking about your own.
  2. Appropriately and honestly disclose how you maintain your mental health; by being matter-of-fact about your health (within reason, depending on your child) you can break the stigma.
  3. Ask questions, even if nothing seems wrong; keep things open-ended to allow your child to make up their own mind.
  4. Neutralize your tone to avoid making assumptions.
  5. Invite them to share by talking about your day first; it may help them feel safer to be honest about their day.
  6. Limit distractions during check-ins; this means no screens! Setting aside “wellness time” can help you and your child remember and process experiences.
  7. Use relatable visual aids, such as emojis — these may be easier for children to conceptualize than abstract discussions of mental health.
  8. Give them the option of speaking to another adult. Some children have difficulty disclosing some feelings with their parent, so a friend, teacher, or other family member may be enlisted.
  9. Know the warning signs of mental health issues — especially if mental illness runs in the family.
  10. Don’t dismiss their struggles. While as adults we can handle many issues with ease, feelings are intensified in children. What seems to us a minor problem may seem to them an insurmountable obstacle.
  11. Resist the urge to fix problems for them. Children are often more committed to a solution if they come up with it themselves. You’re here to help — not to fix.
  12. Know that there are other resources than therapy available. Resources may be scarce, and your needs may not be satisfied by a visit to a psychologist alone. Talk to your child’s doctor, or check with their school counselor or another trusted member of your network.

This was adapted from an NBC News article. The article originally appeared May 20, 2019, and was written by Nicole Spector. 

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