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Family Talk Topics

Supporting your child's mental health

How to talk to your child

Healthy communication is a must for strong relationships with our children. Check out these tips for how to engage with your child in meaningful ways through all that life brings.

Building vocabulary

Whether things are going great or there is struggle, identifying how we are feeling is a key to working through issues and communicating effectively. Help your child build their vocabulary of feelings. You can do this by modeling using feeling words: “I was disappointed today when my friend didn’t do what she said she would.” You can also ask them questions to help know more about how they’re feeling: “I see that you were angry when you had to come inside for dinner. Did you feel frustrated or sad that play time was over?”

Here are some words to get you started:

  • Happy

  • Proud

  • Strong

  • Important

  • Cared for

  • Appreciated

  • Respected

  • Honored

  • Cheerful

  • Liked

  • Exhausted

  • Courageous

  • Hopeful

  • Pleased

  • Excited

  • Smart

  • Empowered

  • Impatient

  • Unhappy

  • Disappointed

  • Helpless

  • Jealous

  • Resentful

  • Bitter

  • Sad

  • Hopeless

  • Guilty

  • Unloved

  • Hurt

  • Angry

  • Abandoned

  • Gloomy

When things are going well

The perfect time to work on building great communication with your child is actually when everything is going well. Everyone is more willing to share when it’s positive, so take the opportunity to connect in new ways. This builds trust and positive relationships that children will rely on!

Try these ideas

  • Connect with your child on a regular basis.

  • Ask about how things are going for them and listen to what they share.

  • Get involved with things they enjoy.  Sometimes talking is easier when you’re doing something!

  • Share things you’re each grateful for.

  • Notice qualities you admire or respect about your child and tell them!

  • Assure your child that they can always come to you and remind them that no matter what it is, you want to hear what they have to say.

Conversation Starters

  • “Tell me more about…”

  • “Tell me about something that’s going really well for you right now?”

  • “I’d love to hear what you think about…”

When things are tough

There will be seasons of parenting where communicating with our children can be a bit harder. This might be because of busy schedules, differences in opinion, lack of time together or many other reasons. Don’t give up! Press in and keep working to connect. You children need and want it!

Try these ideas

  • Make intentional, daily conversation a priority.

  • Ask how your child is feeling about the change/new season of life.

  • Validate their feelings and thoughts, even if you don’t feel the same.

  • Make time for fun together!  Remember, sometimes it’s easier to talk when you’re involved in an activity.

  • Remind your child that you love them and want to hear anything they want to share.

Conversation starters

  • “I know life has been so busy lately.  How does that make you feel?”

  • “I’ve missed talking to you.  Can we find a time to hang out, just the two of us?”

  • “How are you feeling about…”

  • “What do you think we could do to get things back on track?”

When something is wrong

There will be times in life when events happen that impact your family.  It might be a death, divorce, move, etc.  These are the times when your children will fall back on the routines and comfort of what’s familiar.  Use what you’ve been doing when things were good and lean into conversations about the hard parts of life.

Try these ideas

  • Schedule a family meeting or one-on-one time to talk specifically about what’s going on.

  • Listen with the intent to understand where your child is coming from, not to solve the problem.

  • Share your own thoughts and feelings.

  • Model for them how you are coping and processing what’s going on.  

  • Be honest!  Our children know when things aren’t okay and will value being able to talk honestly about the issue.

Conversation Starters

  • “I’m here to listen to anything you want to tell me about…”

  • “How are you feeling in this moment?”

  • “What do you need from me to feel _____________ (safe, loved, heard, etc)?”

  • “I’m willing to share my thoughts if that’s something that would help you.”

For more information on effective communication, see these resources:

Article from Center for Effective Parenting

Article from Smarter Parenting

Article from Center for Parenting Education

What is mental health and why does it matter?

First, let’s take a look at what exactly mental health is and why it matters.  Mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological, emotional, and social well-being.

It impacts many areas of life:

  • how we think, feel, and act

  • decision making

  • interactions with others

  • how we make choices

  • how we handle stress  

  • physical health

Ways to support your child:

  • Make sure they are getting adequate sleep

  • Ensure they have plenty of time to exercise/be physically active

  • Help them establish a balanced diet

  • Encourage them to have strong, healthy relationships (both within the family and with friends)

Spend time together as a family

Spending time together as a family is a great way to support your children!  Here are some fun activities to consider doing together:

  • Have meals together - make it a priority.

  • Take advantage of car time to chat about life.

  • Have consistent family meetings.

  • Implement monthly (or weekly) game nights.

  • Have special “dates” with each child individually for some quality one-on-one time.

  • Commit to weekly check-ins that allow children to share how things are going.

Open communication

Open communication with our children is critical to supporting their mental health!  Establishing quality time for connecting through conversation is so important so that when something is wrong they already feel comfortable coming to us.  

Remember to…

  • Listen first - make sure they know you hear what they’re saying and aren’t just waiting to respond.

  • Seek to understand their perspective - ask questions and genuinely work to understand where your child is coming from.

  • Validate their feelings/thoughts - even if you disagree or don’t understand, make sure to acknowledge their feelings and thoughts as valuable and important.

  • Remind them they are loved - even during conflict or communication that feels difficult, the main goal is for your child to feel loved and supported by you!

If you sense that your child is struggling, don’t be afraid to get help!

  • Use their support system.

    • Are there coaches, teachers, or other adults your child connects with? Loop them in and ask them to stay engaged and actively connecting with your child.

  • Use school personnel.

    • Teachers and counselors are available and always willing to support your child. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for some assistance.

  • Use community resources.

    • There are many organizations within our community that work to support families. Ask your child’s school if you’d like more information on those places.