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5 Mental Health Questions to Ask Kids

How to have conversations about mental health with your kids

Words by
Abby Alger

OCT 07, 2022

5 Mental Health Questions to Ask Kids

How to have conversations about mental health with your kids

Anxiety and depression among minors are on the rise. A recent Surgeon General Advisory noted a 40% increase in “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” and a 36% increase in high school students contemplating suicide between 2009 and 2019. [1]

Source: (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021) [1]

Case in point, Instagram itself admits they contribute to the rising epidemic of body image issues and eating disorders in teenagers, especially young women. 

upset teen sitting on floor with phone and hand on her forehead

You Can Make a Difference: Helping your child with their mental health

We give kids the best chance of staying safe and thriving when we have regular check-ins and conversations about how they are feeling. Parental involvement can play a significant role in promoting good mental health in children.

Considering these “unprecedented challenges to youth mental health” announced by the Surgeon General, parents may feel overwhelmed.  

One way to connect is to initiate daily check-ins as well as regular and authentic conversations about mental illness and your child’s well-being. 

two parents sitting cross legged by their daughter by a lake

Quick daily check-ins with kids

Our lives are so busy, but even a quick check-in can give parents clues about how our children feel.

With younger kids, a fast internet search will provide you with a chart showing faces expressing various emotions. They can circle the ones they experienced today, and you can connect by talking about their experiences. You’ll realize the worries they face as well as the joy they feel.

It is never too late to begin these check-ins. With teens, casual conversations can develop into deeper ones. Here’s how you can get started:

Check-In Questions

  • What did they serve for lunch today?
  • Who did you hang out with?
  • Tell me about that class with your favorite teacher. What did you guys do today?
  • What do you think about your bus driver? Where do you usually sit?
  • What was the most unusual thing you noticed at school today? Tell me about it.
  • Do you ever zone out in class? I used to! When did it happen today?
  • What do you think about your teacher? About what you’re learning?

Getting the conversation started

Discussing mental health with our kids can be tricky, but it is possible. You might want to start with simpler questions about their physical well-being, which may give you valuable insight into their mental health.

For example, if a young person is having significant trouble falling or staying asleep, it could indicate mental health struggles. [2] In addition, while all kids occasionally have headaches or stomaches, if it happens regularly (such as before a test), it could be a sign of anxiety. [3]

To go deeper, consider sharing your own stories about your concerns and worries growing up. Safely sharing personal experiences using hopeful language can encourage resilience and combat shame. You may want to consult a mental health professional before disclosing if your story includes any abuse that could be triggering. [4]

Mental health is not a one-time conversation; it is best as a recurring dialogue. When we ask hard questions, it can show our kids that talking about difficult topics is safe.

Conversation Starters:

  • How is your body feeling? Do you have head or stomach aches?
  • Tell me about your friends (in person and online). What is your favorite part of being together?
  • How well are you able to pay attention in class?
  • When was the last time you saw bullying at your school or online? Have you ever been bothered by anyone?
  • How well are you able to fall asleep? Do you feel rested when you wake up?
father looking at his young daughter on the couch holding hands

Follow-Up Questions

Listen to your child and validate their feelings, then let them know you are always there for them. When seeking help, explain they won’t be punished for sharing things with you.

If they are in a good place, you could say, “I’m glad you are doing well. We’ll talk again soon, and if anything changes, I’m here to help.” 

If your child expresses mental health concerns, you can say, “What you are going through concerns me because I love you.” and “How are you feeling? Let’s talk about how I can support you.”

Getting Help

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 is a free and confidential resource available 24/7 in English and Spanish.

If your child needs immediate help for suicidal ideation, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988 (available 24/7 in English and Spanish) or go to the nearest emergency room.

How to talk about mental health issues

Below are some general tips for discussing topics such as mental illness with your children.

Source: (Franciscan Children’s, 2021) [5]

Where to talk

A great way to initiate conversations with your child is by asking questions when both of you are calm and undistracted. It may be helpful to talk during daily events such as mealtimes, on a walk, or during a car ride.

Where to Have Meaningful Talks

  • In the car
  • On a walk
  • While doing an activity
  • At the dinner table
father and son smiling at each other playing basketball

What To Do if Your Teen Won’t Talk

It is normal for children to pull back from their parents to a degree. However, if your child completely shuts you out, you have a lot of support and resources at your disposal. Keep trying new ideas or approaches until something works.

Support for Parents

  • Avoid lectures
  • Mix it up: Try talking by text or other means
  • Let them choose an activity to do with you
  • Don’t take it personally if they pull back
  • Find another adult you trust that will help
  • Meet with a licensed therapist

Remember that you’re not alone. If you need advice, you can ask grandparents, trusted family members, close family friends, teachers, school administrators, or coaches who also care about your child’s well-being.

soccer team sitting on bleachers

Get support

It may be possible for another adult to reach your child, as research has shown that one trusted adult can have a big impact.

The presence of a caring adult can make a big difference. Studies show that even one safe, stable and nurturing relationship can be a major protective factor in the face of traumatic events.

—Dr. Donal Mordecai, National Mental Health Leader [5]

Reach out to trusted adults in your teen’s life for help and ask them to communicate any concerns to you. As difficult as it is to see your child in pain, you can take steps to help them.

Help yourself

While striving to help your child, remember that you also need help and support. Modeling good mental health by prioritizing your own will show your kids a positive example to follow.

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