• How to Talk to Your Child About Their Mental Health


    It can be challenging to know how to talk to your child when they’re having thoughts of suicide or feelings of depression or anxiety.  It can feel overwhelming and intimidating to talk with them about their feelings, and you may worry about saying the wrong thing.  Here are some tips about talking to your child about their mental health:

    • Ask open-ended questions. Let your child lead the conversation and what they want to talk about.
    • Don’t rush to solve their problems. Instead, ask them what they think would help a situation.
    • Be available and make sure your child knows it. It’s important that your child knows their feelings are not a burden to you.  “I’m around if you want to talk later” may help.
    • Try talking on a walk or in the car. The relaxed atmosphere makes it easier for some kids to open up.


    You also might unintentionally respond in a way that is more hurtful than helpful.  At times, this can come from a place of fear or worry. Other times, your sentiments may come from good intentions and a desire to comfort.  Here are some common responses that often miss the mark when someone is struggling with their mental health and some suggestions on what to do instead.


    “You’re so strong”

    This assumes you know how your child is doing, without knowing what’s happening beneath the surface. It also leaves little room for their feelings to be messy and look like the complete opposite of strong.


    Better options:

    “I appreciate you telling me how you’re feeling. How was it for you to do that?”

    “You’ve been working so hard at your school work, has that been difficult with everything going on?”


    Yelling, blame, or “They’re just doing it for attention”

    It is so important that if your child has opened up about their mental health struggles, they are met with support instead of made to feel like a burden.  If you yell at your child or blame them for what is going on, they will find it hard to open up about their feelings in the future. If you think they’re looking for attention, it is okay to give them the attention they’re seeking.


    Better options:

    “I’m here for you.”

    “It took a lot of strength to open up about your feelings. What can I do to support you?”


    “Don’t feel that way”

    If your child is talking about emotions that are painful to hear, the instinct can sometimes be to take it away in the hopes of making them feel better.  Resist the urge! Trying to dismiss or wash away someone’s emotions can give the message that they are wrong or bad for feeling how they feel.  By avoiding, “Don’t feel that way,” you communicate that you are a safe person to talk with and can handle listening to how they are feeling.


    Better options:

    “You’re really struggling with feeling depressed.”

    “It seems like you have a lot of anxiety about what you’ve been going through. I’m here if you want to share more.”


    “I know how you feel”

    Even if you’ve had a similar experience, no one can actually know how someone else feels.  Each person has unique experiences, knowledge, and opinions that influence how they respond to a situation.  While your intention might be to let them know that you get it, this phrase puts the focus on you instead of them and their unique struggles.


    Better options:

    “What has it been like for you?”

    “I struggled a lot as a teenager, too. But I know that these experiences are different for everyone. Can you tell me more about what’s been going on?”