Start the Conversation
Ask, Listen, Talk, Repeat
Parents & Caregivers
Talking about mental health with children and youth doesn’t have to be complicated. Follow these steps to get started:
Start the conversation.
Hear without judgement.
Support their emotions.
Keep the conversation going.
Order free conversation cards here.
Check in with yourself before starting the conversation to make sure you are ready to be present, vulnerable, and connected to your child. When you’re ready, pick a time and place that’s comfortable and confidential. That might be a morning walk or while in the car.
Start the conversation with an open-ended question or share something you have noticed about a change in their behavior:
- “With everything going on lately, I just wanted to check in to see how you are doing.”
- “I just wanted to check in and am wondering how you are.”
- “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been wanting to hang out with your friends lately. Is everything okay?”
If your child isn’t ready to talk to you, let them know you are available when they are ready to talk.
If your child wants to talk, give them your full attention. Here are some tips to help them feel more comfortable opening up:
- Sit next to each other, rather than across from each other
- Avoid distractions such as phones
- Don’t interrupt
- Avoid fidgeting
You don’t have to solve your child’s problem. The goal is to create a safe space where they can share and know that you hear them and support them. After your child has shared, you could say:
- “Thank you for sharing this with me. How can I support you?”
- “I’m proud of you for sharing that with me. How can I help?”
- “I’m sorry you’re going through that right now. Is there anything I can do to help?”
- “I love you and I’m here for you any time you need me.”
- “Nothing is going to change how I feel about you. We’ll work through this together.”
- “Thank you for sharing this with me. A lot of people struggle with this. I’m here for you.”
Keep the conversation going by checking in with your child often. With practice, it will get easier, and your child will get more comfortable coming to you when they need to talk.
Need more conversation starters? Check out these printable conversation cards.
Children & Youth
When a friend opens up to you about how they are feeling, or tells you about something they are struggling with, you may not know what to say or do. Here are a few things you can do when this happens.
If your friend opens up to you about how they are feeling, listen carefully. Try to let them share without interrupting or judging them. This can help them feel more comfortable. You can nod or repeat what they said back to them to show you have understood.
Show your support
Opening up can feel scary. Show your friend support by letting them know how they are feeling is okay and that you are there for them. You could say:
- “It’s okay to feel that way. Thank you for telling me.”
- “That sounds really tough. How can I be there for you?”
- “I’m glad you feel comfortable sharing that with me. I’m here for you any time.”
Your friend may be worried that you won’t want to be their friend anymore after they’ve shared something hard with you. A hug, spending time together, or doing something you both enjoy are all ways you can show your friend you’re still there for them.
You don't need to have all the answers
You don’t need to have all the answers to be a good friend. Just by listening, you are giving your friend the space to share and a chance to be heard. This is a great reminder that they are not alone, and that help is available.
If you are worried about your friend, encourage them to talk to an adult they trust. If they’re nervous, you could offer to go with them to talk to a trusted adult.
When to get help from an adult
- Someone is hurting or abusing them
- They are harming themselves
- They are thinking about ending their own life
If you are worried about your friend’s safety, let them know that you need to talk to an adult and why. They may ask you not to, but their safety is the most important thing.