It may feel hard to start a conversation about difficult feelings with a young person. But it’s crucial that children understand that it’s ok to talk about our emotions and especially ok to admit something’s wrong. Feeling judged, shamed, or dismissed can make a child feel worse.  

Establishing a Communication

Being a parent is tough, and conversations with your child around their social-emotional health can be extremely difficult to navigate. Though you may notice that something is going on, it is an unrealistic expectation to have your child open up about something serious if you do not regularly have conversations with them. Establishing a culture of communication and sharing, opens the door for future conversations and an overall stronger relationship with your child. We encourage you to talk openly with your child and express concern, support, and love.

Here are some ways to get the conversation started:

Let the young person know you’re concerned and want to help. Create an environment where they can open up, and make sure you give them space to talk. You could try saying:

  • “I’m really worried about you. Can we talk?”

  • “You know, I never thought this was something I would be talking to you about, but I think it’s really important.”

  • “I’ve been noticing that you are (sad/distant/not yourself). I am really concerned. Can we talk about what’s been bothering you?"

  • “You haven’t been acting like yourself lately. Let’s talk about what’s going on.”

Ask Open Ended Questions

Try to ask questions that prompt full answers rather than “yes” or “no.” For instance:

  • “Have you had feelings like this in the past?”

  • “Sometimes you need to talk to an adult about your feelings. I'm here to listen. How can I help you feel better?”

  • “Do you feel like you want to talk to someone else about your problem?”

  • “I'm worried about your safety. Can you tell me if you have thoughts about harming yourself or others?”

  • “Can you tell me more about what is happening? How are you feeling?”


Be an Active Listener

We know you want to help the young person in question. But the first step is to listen openly and empathetically to help the child open up. Here’s how: 

  • Sit in a relaxed position and use appropriate eye contact.

  • Acknowledge their feelings respectfully. Try not to minimize or dismiss how a young person may be feeling.

  • Don’t jump in immediately and give advice. Be calm and let them do the talking. Ask questions, but try not to bombard them!

  • Try to keep your reactions in check – If your young person gets a judgmental, critical, shocked or angry response from you, they’ll be much less likely to come to you with issues in the future.

  • Remind your young person that they’re not alone – let them know that you’re there to support and help in any way that you can.

  • Avoid telling the teen to “shape up” or “get their act together.” Someone who is depressed or anxious may feel unable to accomplish even routine tasks.

  • If they don’t feel like talking, try writing a note or sending a supportive message via text or social media.

  • Watch for reactions during the discussion and slow down or back up if your child becomes confused or looks upset.

  • Talk with them about what information can be shared (with teachers or other family members, for instance) and what they would prefer to remain private.

Provide reassurance

If your young person is experiencing anxiety or depression, it will probably affect the way they think about things. They’re more likely to approach situations negatively, believing nothing much can change or that things are hopeless. Being anxious and worried can also get in the way of finding solutions. If the young person feels this way, they may need: 

  • Encouragement to explore options for what they can do next

  • Reassurance that things will be OK

  • Suggestions that they focus on small steps and achievements.

Point out resources

Let your young person know that support and treatment is available, and that you can work through the options together. Getting them to talk to a GP about what’s going on is a good first step. You could even offer to make an appointment and go along if they want.   

Become part of your young person’s ongoing support system. Check in with them frequently to see how they’re doing and to remind them that you care. 

(PDF, 4MB)

For more information about how to help, see our “Be A Resource” page.

(PDF, 4MB)


Ten Ways for Parents to Help Children Cope With Change(PDF, 4MB)

More information: Talking about mental health with your or another child(DOCX, 16KB)

 More information: How to talk about mental health(DOCX, 717KB)