Being open about mental health with children and young people is vital, whether or not they or anyone they’re close to is living with poor mental health. One in four of us will be affected at some point, and in many cases, issues begin in the teenage years.

So how can we start the conversation with our children about their mental health and wellbeing?

Honest communication

Mother Talking With Unhappy Teenage Daughter On Sofa

Talking to your child honestly about your mental health can reduce any fear or confusion they may be feeling, and help them understand your actions and behaviour. The following list suggests things to consider that will help make the conversations a little easier.

  • Stick with clear and age-appropriate information.
  • Explain as simply as possible how your mental health affects how you feel and how you behave.
  • Make regular time to talk to older children about how they are feeling.
  • Be available to listen if they are having problems or if they just want to talk.
  • Answer questions as honestly as possible, or find someone else who can answer them instead.
  • Reassure them that they are not responsible for how you feel – instead, be a team with your children and help each other at different times.
  • Agree what information about your mental health you feel happy for them to share, and with whom.
  • If your child doesn't feel comfortable discussing their feelings with you, identify a trusted teacher, friend or family member that they can talk to if they feel worried. Childline can also offer them confidential information and advice.

Keep track of their mental health and wellbeing

Mom and daughter in front of a laptop monitor, lying on the floor.

It is a good idea to keep track of your young person's wellbeing, to make sure that they are okay and that their own mental health is not being adversely affected. If you keep an eye on how they are, you will be able to notice if they are having difficulties and deal with any issues quickly.

  • Devise a simple way to check in with your child about their stress levels, eg: 'On a scale of 1–10 how relaxed are you feeling? What is one thing that will bring that score closer to 10?'
  • Keep an eye out for changes in their behaviour, such as becoming quiet and withdrawn.
  • Notice if your child doesn't want to participate in activities that they usually enjoy.
  • Pay attention if they become angry or aggressive; try to acknowledge their feelings and set boundaries without becoming angry back.
  • Attend parents' evenings at school, nursery or any after-school clubs as much as possible, to find out how your child is coping; or make arrangements for a trusted relative or friend to go on your behalf.
  • Ask people you trust to also keep an eye on your child's wellbeing; close friends and family members can let you know if your child appears different, and they may notice things you don't.
  • If you feel concerned about your child's mental health, you can ask your GP to assess them, or make contact with a local support organisation for young people such as Extern's Reach Out project.

Think about what they need in their own lives

Helping your child to have the different things they need in order to be happy and healthy is a satisfying part of being a parent.

  • Talk to them about their experience of school, find out what they are enjoying and which aspects they are finding harder, so that you can support them with these.
  • Create a quiet and clear place at home where they can study and prioritise time each week for them to do homework.
  • Support their friendships to develop and strengthen; if you don't feel able to have their friends around, see if you can help them to set up times where they can meet outside the home.
  • Help them take part in activities they enjoy.
  • Respect their privacy by letting them have their own space.
  • Encourage physical exercise, to let off steam and reduce anxiety or worry.

See our page on support available, including local projects, for more information.

Let's hear from pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist Dr. Hina Talib who shares tips on how to start the conversation.

If you're still worried about your child

If you're still concerned about your child after talking to them, see a GP for further advice.