If you have noticed any signs or symptoms that a child is struggling with their mental wellness, bringing it up in conversation may feel very tricky. However, it’s very important, and can be as easy as checking in with them to let them know you care about them and that they are not alone. We asked Integral Care therapists to weigh in with tips on starting the conversation.
How to Start “The Conversation" with Your Kids
TIPS FROM CAT CONTE
Check in with yourself before starting a conversation with your child to make sure you are in a healthy place to be present, vulnerable, and connected. This is key to creating a safe space for both of you. When you’re ready, choose a time and place that’s comfortable and confidential. That might be a morning walk or while in the car. Start with an open-ended question or share an observation about a change in their behavior to help start the conversation.
- “With everything going on lately, I just wanted to check in to see how you are doing.”
- “I just wanted to check in and am wondering how you are.”
- “Work has been hectic for me recently. How has school been for you?”
In these moments, we may be focused on what the “right” response is but one of the best things we can do for someone we care about is to create a safe space to:
- Help them stop and think
- Let them know you care
- Listen and affirm what they share
Remember, the goal of this conversation is not to “fix” your loved one. Instead of advice, you can say: “Thank you for sharing this with me. What can I do to support you?”
Children might be scared to ask for help or not ready to open up. If that happens, let them know that you would like to check in with them later. If you are worried about their safety, share your concern with them and offer to connect them to professional help.
TIPS FROM EUGENE WELLINGTON
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, one of the first steps you can take is to meet your child where they are. We must approach them with care and sensitivity, while being open to the fact that they may not be ready to talk. Opening up about our own mental health can be difficult, so approaching a loved one about theirs can be even more challenging.
You could begin the conversation by expressing your care for that person and then tell them what you’ve noticed about their mood, behaviors, and feelings. It’s important that we remember it’s not our job to diagnose them or to give them a lecture about what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Instead, talk about what you’ve noticed.
You might notice signs like isolation or social withdrawal, big mood swings, difficulty concentrating, avoiding or missing school, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, irritability, sleep problems or changes in weight or appetite. This is not a complete list. Sometimes, you’ll notice a combination of things that happen at the same time.
Here’s just one example of a conversation starter: “Hey, just wanted to reach out and say I appreciate you and I love you! I’ve noticed you seem a bit down lately and you’re staying in your room most of the day. Has something been bothering you lately that you feel comfortable talking about? If not, that’s okay. Just know that I’m here if you ever want to talk.”
If you’re worried about your child’s immediate safety, call your local mental health crisis helpline or 911. Stay with them until help arrives.
One of the most important elements of the conversation is good listening skills. Check out these helpful hints to improve your listening skills.