Dad talking to son

Initiate a direct conversation if you notice warning signs that your child may need additional mental or emotional support.

Addressing Mental Health Concerns with Compassion

Resources in partnership with On Our Sleeves: The Movement for Children’s Mental Health

If you notice warning signs that your child may need additional mental or emotional support, it’s best to initiate a direct conversation. Try not to approach the conversations with an agenda, but instead open up a space for them to share openly with you. Ask direct, compassionate questions about the things you are noticing in a supportive, and non-judgmental manner. Validate their experiences, feelings, and concerns to make them feel heard. Engage in the conversation by listening actively and offering to help. Ask how you can help before assuming you know what they need or taking an action. Involving your child in the problem-solving process helps them feel valued and supported.

Instead of... Try…
“You’ll be fine. Just get over it.” “Wow, that sounds really difficult. I am sorry you’re going through that. I’m here for you.”
“Just try to be more positive.” “I am sorry you’re feeling down right now. I am here to listen.”
“Why are you crabby all the time?” “I noticed you don’t seem like yourself lately. Is everything okay? I’m here for you.”
“You need to go to bed earlier.” “I noticed you’re staying up pretty late, are you having trouble sleeping? What’s keeping you up?”
“Why aren’t you doing your homework? You need to get your grades up.” “It seems like you’re having trouble in school, what’s going on and how can I help?”
“Why do you always pick at your food?” “I noticed you haven’t eaten much, how are you feeling?”
“You need to calm down.” “I see that you are upset. Can you tell me more about what’s going on?”
“Just look on the bright side.” “Sometimes it must seem like things are stacked against you. We will get through this together.”
“You just need to take some deep breaths.” “What can I do to help you get through that situation if it comes up again?”
“You know, I feel that same way and here’s what I do about it.” “I think I understand that you feel _____ when ____ happens, is that right?”

It’s also important not to make assumptions about what may be causing your child’s mental or emotional concerns. For example, if your child seems anxious, don’t assume you know the reasons why they feel that way. Instead, encourage them to talk more specifically about their fears. By listening carefully to their thoughts, feelings, and experiences you may find ways to provide support or problem solve together.

Addressing concerns about your child’s mental health is not always going to be easy or come naturally. Sometimes you’re going to mess up. Sometimes you’re not going to say the right thing. And at first, your child might not want to talk much, and might even seem angrier after you talk. That’s okay. The goal is to get it right more often than not. When you do make a mistake, be open, apologize and try again. Not only will your children appreciate your truthfulness, it gives them permission to make mistakes too.

If you have a concern about your child’s mental health, reach out to your child’s doctor first and they will make a referral to a mental health professional. If your child does not have a primary care doctor but is in need of mental health support, the websites listed below will help you find mental health resources in your area.

On Our Sleeves®: https://www.onoursleeves.org/mental-health-resources/national-state-resources
Mental Health America: https://www.mhanational.org/
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment

Find other resources here.

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