Talk to your child about mental health

Updated: Aug 16

Mental health is something that’s becoming more prevalent in today's society. It can be difficult to start a conversation with children and young people about mental health/illness and there's many reasons for this.

You might feel that you don't have the right words or know what they want, but thankfully it's easy if we start small!

Talk to your child about their mental health

Why talk to children about mental health?

Calmly and confidently opening up conversations in our schools can encourage children and young people to understand that mental health is something we all have, and that we should be aware of it and learn skills to look after it. Importantly, we can also ask for help when we need support.

Talking to your child about how they’re feeling can be hard. You might feel like you don’t know where to start or when a ‘good time’ to talk is.

By taking 20 minutes to do an activity you both enjoy, you can create a relaxed space for getting the conversation started.

In primary schools

When children are younger, it’s important that they understand how there can be changes in their bodies which are connected to their feelings and thoughts. For example, when our heart beats very quickly after we have been running, the same is true when we are nervous or scared.

By helping children with these concepts and getting them to think about how feelings and thoughts are linked to behaviour, we can then explain how a combination of all these elements affects our mental health.

Talking to your child about mental health

In secondary schools and further education settings

If you work with older children, it’s important that they know that it is okay to ask for help. Speaking about mental health regularly will help students understand that we all have mental health and that there is no stigma in talking about it.

You may also want to start a conversation about mental health if you notice changes in a student that concern you. Being able to have these conversations is very important, as they will help you find out if they need support, if they are having a crisis, or if you need to involve specialist services.

Conversation Starters

Talking to your child about how they’re feeling can be tough, especially if you’re concerned that they're having a hard time. You might not know what to say, or feel worried about how your child will react.

It doesn’t matter what topic the conversation starts with – it’s about the opportunity it gives you to talk about feelings and provide comfort.

Here are some things you could ask to get the conversation started:

  • What was the best bit of your day?

  • What was the worst bit of your day?

  • What did you do today that made you proud?

  • How are you feeling?

  • What would you like to talk about?

If your child is having a hard time, you can try to find out how they’d like to be supported by asking gentle questions like:

  • How can I support you through this?

  • Do you want to talk about what’s going on?

  • Is there anything you need from me? Space, time to talk, time to do something fun?

  • What was the biggest problem you had today? What helped?

Is there anything you need from me? Space, time to talk, time to do something fun?

Here's a full and comprehensive list of conversation starters from YoungMinds

What if my child tells me they're struggling?

If your child tells you they’re struggling, it’s important to make sure they feel seen and heard. If you’re worried about something that’s come up in conversation, be honest and clear about how you see things and how you want to support them.

When responding, it helps to:

  • Validate their feelings. You could say ‘it’s really understandable that you’re feeling…’ to let them know that their feelings are okay.

  • Thank them for sharing what’s going on and be encouraging about the way they’ve opened up.

  • Let them know that you love them, you're there for them, they can talk to you whenever they need to, and you can help them get support if they need it.

  • Ask them if there's anything you could do that they would find particularly helpful.

  • Spend time together thinking about what’s making them feel this way. It could be something at home or school, a relationship with a friend or family member or something else.

  • Let your child know about the helplines, textlines and online chat services that are available - which you can find at the end of this guide. Young people can find it difficult to talk and worry about upsetting their parents, so reassure them that it’s okay to open up to other people.

  • Remind your child that this is temporary. Reassure them that things can change and they can feel better.

  • Avoid conversations at the height of distress. It's important to be there for them, but it can be more helpful to talk about the causes when things are feeling calmer.

If you think your child needs professional support, speaking to their GP and school, and considering whether counselling or therapy might help, are good places to start.

Services & Helplines available

The Mix Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

Email support available via their online contact form. Free 1-2-1 webchat service available. Free short-term counselling service available. Opening times:3pm - 12am, seven days a week 0808 808 4994 The Mix

Childline If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service. Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations. Opening times: 24/7 0800 11 11 Childline

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) Provides support to anyone in the UK who is feeling down and needs to talk or find information.

Free webchat service available. Information about the helpline and how it works available here. Opening times: 5pm - midnight, 365 days a year 0800 58 58 58 CALM

Muslim Youth Helpline Provides faith and culturally sensitive support for young Muslims.

Online chat service available during opening hours. Opening times: 4pm - 10pm, 365 days a year 0808 808 2008 0808 808 2008 Muslim Youth Helpline

Boloh Supports Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic children (11+), young people and parents and carers who have been affected by Covid-19. You can call to talk through any worry or problem, including around issues such as bereavement, physical or mental health, financial issues or unemployment, or bullying and racism.

You can speak to someone in English, Gujarati, Urdu, Bengali, French, Spanish, Arabic, Punjabi, Mirpuri, Pothwari, Hinko, Hindi and Sundhi. Interpreters are available for other languages.

Webchat service available here during opening hours. Opening times: 10am - 8pm, Monday - Friday; 10am - 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays 0800 151 2605 Boloh

MeeToo A free app for teenagers (11+) providing resources and a fully-moderated community where you can share your problems, get support and help other people too.

Can be downloaded from Google Play or App Store. MeeToo

Ollee A virtual friend for 8-11 year olds and their parents that helps families think about feelings and talk about difficult topics.

You can download the app here. Ollee App

Samaritans Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

Opening times: 24/7 116123 Samaritans

Papyrus Offers confidential advice and support for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts. Its helpline service - HOPELINEUK - is available to anybody under the age of 35 experiencing suicidal thoughts, or anybody concerned that a young person could be thinking of suicide.

Opening times: 9am – midnight, 365 days a year 0800 068 4141 07860039967