From the basics, like how to talk to your kids about mental health and keeping a routine, to more serious topics like community violence, and race and racism, these resources from On Our Sleeves® will help support you in your understanding of mental health concerns and teach you how to talk about mental health and wellness in an easy to understand manner.

Talking to your kids about mental health can be downright awkward. They may be reluctant or have trouble finding words to speak about what they’re feeling inside. But these are some of the most important conversations you can have with your child. There are ways parents can spot early warning signs and help address their child’s needs.

“While there is still much to learn, we know more now about how to accurately diagnose and effectively treat pediatric mental health concerns,” says Nancy Cunningham, PsyD., Nationwide Children’s Hospital Big Lots Behavioral Health Services. “Early identification and intervention are key to addressing symptoms, promoting a child’s development, and helping a child to live a happier and healthier life.”

If you sense your child is struggling, Cunningham says the first step is to encourage them to talk – and that starts with establishing trust. Starting these difficult conversations with kids at an early age makes it easier as they grow older. Here, she provides tips for approaching difficult topics and initiating a healthy rapport with your child that will last a lifetime.

Model Openness
Share your feelings, challenges, successes and failures with your child in a way that is age appropriate. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate to them that it’s safe to talk about their own feelings and challenges.

Meet Them Where They Are
Quality time with your child is important. However, when you are ready to talk may be different than when your child is ready to talk to you. Plan activities together that you know they enjoy. While you’re together, look for opportunities to talk about their friends, how school is going, or what they’re following on social media.

Let Them Fail
In non-dangerous situations, it’s healthy to allow your child to struggle and fail. If you take away their opportunity to learn from their mistakes, they miss out on the chance to gain confidence and resiliency.

Create a Safe Space
If you suspect your child is struggling, find ways to express your concern without seeming threatening or judgmental. Create a sense of safety by remaining calm and reassuring. Listen with understanding and validate their feelings. Be the kind of parent your child wants to talk to.

Sometimes Being Direct is Best
If you notice warning signs (such as shifts in behavior or personality, changes in sleeping or eating habits or loss of interest in activities) it’s sometimes best to initiate a direct conversation. Ask direct questions in a supportive, thoughtful manner. This conversation is easier if you’ve established a baseline of trust.

Stay Connected to Your Pediatrician
Continue to schedule yearly well visits with your pediatrician. They can be your first line of support. They may be able to detect changes in your child’s behavior, and they are skilled at screening for depression, anxiety and substance abuse. If you have an immediate concern, make sure to reach out to them.

Include Your Child in the Solution
If you’re concerned that your child is struggling, ask how you can help before taking an action. For example, if your child is struggling at school, ask if it would be helpful for you to reach out to their teacher or school counselor. The more you can include your child in the process the better.

Find a Mentor
If your child is not comfortable talking to you, they might be willing to talk to another adult. Providing opportunities for them to open up is the goal. And often that’s easier with someone who’s not their parent!

Apologize When You’re Wrong
Parents are going to mess up. Getting it right more than not is the goal. When you do overreact or make a mistake, admit you were wrong and apologize. Not only will your children appreciate your truthfulness, it gives them permission to make mistakes too.

Practice What You Preach
If you’re really feeling stuck, seek help from the guidance of a therapist, physician or spiritual director for yourself. A trusted third party can provide a new perspective into your child’s behavior. It will also send a great message to your child that it’s okay to reach out for help.

Stop the Stigma
Children pick up on their parents’ attitudes. You may be perpetuating the stigma of mental illness without knowing it. Try to talk about emotional issues in a non-judgmental manner – the way you might talk about a physical illness.

If you notice any of these signs, talk with your child(ren) about their experience to get a better understanding. It also might be time to talk with their pediatrician, someone at their school or a mental health professional. There are scientifically proven and effective treatments for children who experience anxiety disorders.

On Our Sleeves® is a trademark of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. To learn more visit:

Comments are closed.

FREE! Get WEEKEND+  Join the thousands of Chicago families that get it and...GO!