How to talk to children about mental health

At Shawmind, we’re on a mission to improve children’s mental health through our #Headucation campaign. 1 in 6 school aged children has a common mental health condition yet there is an average 10-year delay in getting appropriate treatment due to lack of awareness, stigma, and limited resources.

Many of these common mental health conditions in children and adolescents are treatable, but more importantly, can be prevented before they arise.

By starting conversations with children about mental health, you can help to increase their awareness, reduce stigma and fear of judgement, and increase the likelihood that they’ll seek treatment when needed sooner rather than later.

Adults can often feel uncomfortable talking to children about mental health or fear saying something “wrong”, so here are our tips for talking to children about mental health.

Pick your time

As with any serious conversation with a child, you need to pick the right time to bring it up. Allow yourself plenty of time to answer any questions they may have and make sure you’re in an environment where they feel safe opening up. If you’re a parent/carer, try to have the conversation at home when you’re not planning on leaving soon.

You should also consider the best time to catch the child in the right frame of mind for this conversation – e.g. it may be more difficult to have this conversation when the child is feeling distressed or overwhelmed by something else.

Put yourself on the same level

Nobody likes being talked down to, so try to address the child with respect and informality rather than making it seem like a lecture. It can also help to literally put yourself on the same level as the child by sitting on the floor or on a low chair to be at their eye level and seen as an equal they can trust and confide in.

Be honest

Being honest about mental health is the best way to help children build a realistic understanding of it. Let them know that mental wellbeing fluctuates depending on lots of factors and that it’s possible to have a mental health condition and still feel mentally positive. It can also help to open up about your own experiences with mental health as it makes mental health more relatable and can even make them feel more confident discussing their own mental health.

Keep it simple

Children and adolescents may find it more difficult to understand complex explanations about mental health so it’s best to keep it simple and age-appropriate. Children will likely ask questions if they think something is not clear or fully explained so don’t fear saying too little – especially with younger children. You can always build on your explanations over time as their understanding develops.

A good way to talk to children about their mental health is to ask them to rate their feelings rather than trying to find words to describe them e.g. “How well do you feel on a scale of 1-10?”. You can then follow up their answers with questions to uncover the cause of their rating.

Communicate regularly

Mental health is not a one-time occurrence and nor should your conversations be. Check in regularly with children about how they’re feeling and find opportunities to discuss mental health openly in relaxed settings. The more frequently and casually mental health is discussed, the more it becomes normalised for the child who will then likely find it easier to reach out for support when they need it.

Listen and acknowledge

The final, and arguably most important, tip we have for conversations about mental health with children is to listen to them. If you don’t give them opportunities to speak, it’s no longer a conversation.

Ask questions about their experiences and understanding of mental health and make sure you acknowledge everything they’ve said. This not only shows them that you’ve listened, but that what they feel is valid – making them more likely to trust you in the future.

There are some great resources to help children learn about and manage mental health for themselves. Why not share them after your conversations?

Our #Headucation campaign aims to provide fully-funded mental health training to teachers so that they can provide crucial mental health support to children in schools. Help us by supporting our campaign – buy a product from our store, enrol on one of our courses or donate to our fundraiser.



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