I’m concerned about my child. How do I start a conversation with them about this?
If you’re concerned about your child, have a conversation with them. It’s a great place to start. You don’t need to have all the answers – just be willing to listen and to be open, curious and compassionate. That’s what matters the most.
Your child may be unsure how to tell you that they are struggling. Sometimes children and youth find it hard to talk about their feelings or experiences. They may not know the words to describe feelings. They may not understand what’s going on for them or how to connect something in their life with their struggles.
Tips for starting the conversation with your child:
- Find a good time and place to talk. Some children and youth feel more comfortable talking while they are doing an activity. Others prefer to sit and have a face-to-face talk. It is important to be mindful of your child/youth's privacy, even around other members of the family.
- With children, you can sit and cuddle with them to begin the conversation. It may be helpful if they can draw or play with toys while talking.
- With youth, sometimes it’s helpful to have tricky conversations while doing something. Try talking while driving in the car, shooting hoops, or doing an art project.
- Stay calm and be patient. Your goal is to hold space for your child in the present moment. That means putting your focus completely on them and making it a safe place for them to figure out what they are feeling. This may not yet be the time to find solutions or to show you are very worried or to get as much information from them as possible. It can take time for your child to feel comfortable sharing and expressing feelings. If at first they do not want to share, don’t push for an answer right away. You can try another time, unless your child is in immediate danger/crisis.
- Find a conversation starter from everyday life they can relate to. Talk about your day, or for a younger child you could say something about a movie or TV character. You can ask questions, find out how your child feels, and let the conversation flow from there.
- Talk with your child about how things have been going for them and what you’ve noticed. If you ask how they are doing in an open and accepting way, it can open the doorway to an important conversation. It’s best to use direct language that your child will understand. You can say things like:
- “I’ve noticed that… you aren’t eating your lunch.”
- “It seems to me like… you’re worried about school a lot. Can you tell me how you are feeling about it now?”
- “You said something interesting about how you felt when… How do you feel about it now?”
- Just listen. It can help your child understand that you’re there for them and that they can turn to you for help. The most important thing is to make it a safe conversation and to accept how they are feeling as well as making them feel validated. Say something like:
- “It must be very hard to feel that way. Can I help?”, or
- “It makes sense that you’ve been feeling down. You have a lot going on at school.”
For talking with youth and young adults, find more tips here for starting the conversation, and how to respond if they turn to you for support.