How to Talk With Your Child When you Feel Concerned They may be Struggling With a Mental Health Problem
It can be challenging to talk about mental health. Sometimes parents, like others, avoid the conversation because they don’t know how to start or they worry that they might put thoughts into their child’s head that had not been there, and will, therefore, make things worse. Research tells us that this is not the case. Bringing up worries, concerns, changes in behaviour etc. with your child will open the lines of communication rather than worsen the situation.
Here are some tips to help you talk to your child about mental health:
Find a quiet time when you are unlikely to have interruptions to begin the conversation.
Reassure your child that they can tell you anything and you will not get angry with them (even if you get scared).
Start the conversation with describing changes you have noticed in their mood, behaviour, reactions etc.e.g., “I have noticed that you seem to be crying more.” If you have had conversations with your child’s teacher about concerns, include comments from the teacher’s observations.
Share that you “wonder” about how your child might be feeling, what they might be thinking, what they might be worried about etc. e.g., “I wonder if you’re feeling sad about losing your friendship with Sam.”
Allow your child time to reflect before they answer.
Stay calm and don’t abandon the conversation if your child responds with“Nothing is wrong……leave me alone”. If this happens, reassure your child that you are there for them. Give your child some time and then try again.
If your child tells you anything that makes you worried ( e.g., thoughts of suicide, overwhelming anxiety, self-injurious behaviour like cutting) reassure your child that you are glad they told you and you will help them find the right professional to talk to, and you will be there for them throughout the journey.