How to talk to children about mental health

It is not uncommon for young people to keep things from their parents, particularly when dealing with something they haven’t been taught to discuss – like their mental health.

Strong lines of communication between parents and their children are an important part of identifying a mental health concern. When a young person has good mental health, they are able to thrive and live life to the fullest. But there are many challenges for young people to face, and these can get in the way of that. Let’s take a look at how to talk to children about mental health.


What can impact children’s mental health?

The last two years have presented numerous setbacks to everyday life in the form of COVID-19. Lockdowns have caused many children and young people to miss out on key experiences, replacing them with isolation and distance. This has been shown to have a negative impact on one’s mental health.

Parents must make a commitment to supporting their children’s mental health during COVID and into the future. You can do this by becoming more aware of the causes and early signs of poor mental health. 

Just some challenges that can be harmful to a young person’s mental health include:

  • School and exam pressures
  • Relationships
  • Bullying
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Traumatic events
  • External pressures or influences
  • Family conflict


Early signs of mental health problems

It can be difficult for parents to spot the difference between typical teenage mood swings and a developing mental health concern. It is not unusual for young people to feel down, anxious or angry. But what are the signs of mental health issues and how can you tell if your child has anxiety?

Well, the time you should be concerned is when these feelings persist for longer periods – particularly if they start to interfere with daily life.

Significant changes to look out for include:

  • Losing interest in activities that they usually enjoy
  • Being quick to anger
  • Changes to their sleeping and eating patterns
  • Poor academic performance
  • Difficulties with focus or motivation
  • Getting involved in risky behaviour (like alcohol and drugs)
  • Expressing negative thoughts – sometimes distressing ones
  • Seeming particularly anxious or becoming tearful with no obvious reason


What you can do to help

Communication is essential, and the key is to make your child feel safe to talk about how they are feeling. This can be a sensitive process, and they need to feel comfortable, supported and validated throughout.

Here are some things you can do to encourage communication:

  • Consider how you talk about your feelings. Young people don’t want their parents to be upset or disappointed, so they need to feel confident that you will listen and respond calmly.
  • Spend time with them – even hanging out once a week can keep those lines of communication open.
  • Make yourself available but don’t be intrusive.
  • Show an interest in their life without focusing only on the problems.
  • Don’t be dismissive. Show empathy and never judge, and don’t rush to start suggesting solutions.
  • Encourage positive friendships and relationships.
  • Encourage things like a healthy diet, exercise and lots of sleep, and keep them doing things they enjoy.
  • Make them feel loved – this is important to them, no matter what they say.

Now you know how to talk to children about mental health, if you notice any of the aforementioned changes, you can approach the conversation in the most supportive way possible. 

If you need support dealing with your child’s mental health, you might like to speak to seek further help from your trusted GP.

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