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Tips for Talking with  Youth about Mental Health

Kids may be curious about mental health, or not know how to talk to adults about their own emotions. 


Do you need help starting a conversation with your child about mental health? Try leading with these questions. 

  • Can you tell me more about what is happening? How you are feeling?

  • Have you had feelings like this in the past?

  • Sometimes you need to talk to an adult about your feelings. I'm here to listen. How can I help you feel better?

  • Do you feel like you want to talk to someone else about your problem?

  • I'm worried about your safety. Can you tell me if you have thoughts about harming yourself or others?

Below is additional information to help parents, caregivers, and educators have conversations with children and teens about mental health. 

Starting the Conversation

Just as you can help prevent a child from catching a cold or breaking a bone, you can help prevent a child from having mental health problems.  We know what it takes to keep a child physically healthy—nutritious food, exercise, immunizations - but the basics for good mental health aren’t always as clear.  The first “basic” is to know that children’s mental health matters.  We need to treat a child’s mental health just like we do their physical health, by giving it thought and attention and, when needed, professional help.

Remember, if you're concerned about health, it's always better to speak up sooner rather than later!

Know the Warning Signs

Not all children grow from infancy through their adolescent years without experiencing some bumps along the way. While every child is unique and special, sometimes they encounter emotions, feelings or behavior that cause problems in their lives and the lives of those around them. Families often worry when their child or teenager has difficulty coping with things, feels sad, can't sleep, gets involved with drugs, or can't get along with family or friends.

Remember,you can play a critical role in knowing when your child may need help!

Evolve the Conversation as They Grow Up

Myths, confusion, and misinformation about mental illnesses cause anxiety, create stereotypes, and promote stigma. During the past 50 years, great advances have been made in the areas of diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. Parents can help children understand that these are real illnesses that can be treated. Parents should be aware of their child's needs, concerns, knowledge, and experience with mental illnesses. 

When talking about mental illnesses, parents should:

  • communicate in a straightforward manner

  • communicate at a level that is appropriate to a child's age and development level

  • have the discussion when the child feels safe and comfortable

  • watch their child's reaction during the discussion

  • slow down or back up if the child becomes confused or looks upset


Considering these points will help any child to be more relaxed and understand more of the conversation.

Share Your Story

Mental illness can be frightening -- not only to the person who has it but also to people around them. If you are a child and reliant on the care of an adult who has a mental illness, things can be even more confusing. Children may have a number of questions, and it is important to take time to address their questions and concerns. Helping a child understand their parent's or guardian's illness will make the illness seem less 'frightening' and give the child the tools they need for a more confident, safe and happy life.

Remember, it's ok to talk with your kids about mental illness.

Promote Mental Health

Promoting a child’s mental health means helping a child feel secure, relate well with others and foster their growth at home and at school.  We do this by helping to build a child’s confidence and competence - the foundation of strong self-esteem.  This can be achieved by providing a child with a safe and secure home; warmth and love; respect; caring and trusting relationships with family, friends, and adults in the community; opportunities to talk about experiences and feelings; time to play, learn, and succeed; encouragement and praise; and consistent and fair expectations with clear consequences for misbehavior.

Remember, when you talk, children listen!

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This information was adapted from Wisconsin Knows: Children's Mental Health Matters
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