A boy and his parents smiling during a family meeting

A guide for parents and carers How to talk to your child about mental health

Have a look at our tips and ideas for talking to your child about mental health.

The importance of talking to your child

Giving our children and young people opportunities to open up is one of the biggest things we can do as parents and carers to support their wellbeing. It can be easy to forget the simple power of sharing what we’re going through and feeling heard. But even though you can’t fix everything when your child is struggling, you can make them feel seen and understood – and this in itself can make them feel more able to cope.

Talking about how they are, how their day has been and what’s on their mind as part of everyday family life shows your child that you're interested in them and want to listen. It also supports them to practise thinking and talking about their feelings, helping them to get to know themselves and what they need.

But talking isn't always easy. You might feel like you don’t know where to start, when a ‘good time’ is, or how your young person will react. Or, you might be worried about making things worse or saying the wrong thing. If this is the case, try to remember that your child doesn't need you to always get it right - they just need to know you're there.

Here, you can find lots of ideas, conversation starters and advice for making talking easier.

Mother and daughter having a serious talk on the sofa

Activities you can do to support conversations with your child

A father and son having lots of fun together on the sofa with a tablet

Lots of children and young people find it easier to talk while doing an activity. This takes the pressure off because they don’t have to sit still or make eye contact all the time, and because it makes pauses and silences more comfortable. 

Having something to do with their hands, or something practical to focus on, can also make it easier for some children and young people to reflect or think more clearly.

Rather than feeling like a ‘big chat’, the conversation can start more naturally while you’re both doing something you enjoy.

Try picking one of our activity ideas and giving it a go.

  • Play a ball game. Football, catch, basketball, dodgeball … there are endless ball games to choose from. You can ask your child to pick a game they’d like to play or ask them about their favourite sports team.
  • Ready, set… bake. Baking is a great way to have fun together and there are so many bakes to choose from including with fairy cakes, scones, traybakes or energy balls.
  • Create something together. There are so many things you can make in 20 minutes. This can be as simple as doing a paint-by-numbers, jigsaw, designing your own Birthday or thank you cards, or trying something new like painting your own T-shirt designs.
  • Draw cartoons of each other. Sometimes, all you need is pen and paper. Create cartoon drawings of one another, and other family members, cats, dogs, fish – have fun! You could also try drawing with your eyes closed or not taking your pen off the paper to add an extra challenge.
  • Indoor picnic. 20 minutes isn’t quite enough time to head out to the beach with a picnic blanket, but it’s perfect for having one indoors. Lay out a blanket, pick out your family’s favourite finger food and have a picnic in the comfort of home.
  • Tech-free games. Take a screen break with tech-free games like 20 questions, cat's cradle, marbles, jacks, the floor is lava, skipping and more. There are so many 20 minute games to choose from.
  • Indoor treasure hunt. Hide some things (such as toys, messages or even sections of a story) around the house, create some clues and see if your children can guess where they are!
  • Put on your dancing shoes. If your child loves to dance, let their feet do the talking. Ask them to pick out their favourite song and dance like you mean it!
  • Sing it. From car singing to serenading the family in the kitchen, turn up your favourite ballads and sing along. You could turn it into a game by challenging them too sing in the style of their favourite film or TV character.

  • Take a walk. Sometimes taking 20 minutes is as simple as taking a walk, whether it’s through nearby countryside, to the shops or around the block with the family dog.
  • Go for a drive. Car journeys are a great opportunity for 20 minutes with your child. Encourage them to leave their phone for a while, turn down the radio and strike up a conversation.
  • Ready, set… bake. Baking is a great way to have fun together and there are so many bakes to choose from including with fairy cakessconestraybakes or energy balls.
  • Create something together. There are so many things you can make in 20 minutes. This can be as simple as doing a paint-by-numbers, jigsaw, designing your own Birthday or thank you cards, or trying something new like painting your own T-shirt designs
  • Have a kickabout. Football, catch, basketball, dodgeball … there are endless ball games to choose from. You can ask your child to pick a game they’d like to play or ask them about their favourite sports team.
  • Share your music. You can create playlists together for the different parts of your day – what do you both like to listen to when you wake up, wind down or cook dinner? You may surprise each other with your choices and even introduce each other to something new.
  • Draw or colour-in together. If your child likes drawing, doing it together can be as easy as doodling on a piece of a paper. Or you could try an adult colouring book together.
  • Yoga time. Designed around controlled movement and breathing techniques, yoga is an easy one to do together at home. New to yoga? A quick search on YouTube will bring up lots of beginners’ videos you can try.

  • Build a fort. Use blankets, bedsheets, cushions, chairs and fairy lights to create your own cosy little fort. Be warned: it will take several attempts to keep it all up, but so worth it once you’re inside!
  • Flex those green fingers. Sow some seeds and watch them grow together! Begin with seedlings on the windowsill and watch them grow before moving them into window pots or even the garden. If you’re not green fingered, begin with something easy like sunflowers or sweet peas.
  • Have a games night. You could learn a new board or card game, choose a video game to play, or even try a family poker night.

  • Start a new series. Getting into a gripping series is a great way to spend time together, and you can talk about all the twists and turns through the week!
  • Share your favourite books. Have a go at reading each other’s favourite books, and then talk about them together. This is a great way to learn more about each other and discover common ground.
  • Cook together. Ask your child if there’s something they want to learn how to cook, or a dish they’d like to teach you, and make it with them – then enjoy eating what you make together. If you want to heat up the competition, try a family ‘Come Dine With Me’ where each person takes a turn to cook and entertain the family for an evening, and is given a mark out of ten for their efforts.
  • Coffee shop date. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back with a cup of something warm and catch up! Whether it’s before or between running errands or make a special trip, sitting down and having a drink together could be just want they need to get them talking.
  • Have a games night. You could learn a new board or card game, choose a video game to play, or even try a family poker night.
Screenshot of our 'Activity picker' resource

Make an activity picker

Younger children might enjoy using an activity picker to decide on an activity together. You can download our template and follow the instructions below to make one with your child.

Download the activity picker template

Instructions

  1. Print out the activity picker on A4 and cut it out.
  2. Flip your activity picker over so the blank side is facing up.
  3. Fold diagonally in half (starting from the bottom left corner, fold your activity picker so the bottom left corner meets the top right corner). Your activity picker should make a triangle. Crease the edge well. Unfold this, and do the same thing but starting with the bottom right corner, fold the activity picker in half diagonally. You should now have a creased point in the middle.
  4. Stay on the blank side and fold each corner so the points meet in the middle. Your activity picker will now look like a smaller square.
  5. Flip the activity picker over so you are on the printed side. You will now do the same step on this side, folding each corner into the middle. Your activity picker will now look like an even smaller square.
  6. Now fold your activity picker in half, so your square is a small rectangle. Unfold and fold in half again on the other side.
  7. Slot your thumbs and first fingers under the flap. You’re now ready to use your activity picker!

Conversation starters to support you

Father and son smiling and looking very happy together sitting by a wall

Talking to your child about how they’re feeling can be tough, especially if you’re concerned that they're having a hard time. You might not know what to say, or feel worried about how your child will react.

It doesn’t matter what topic the conversation starts with – it’s about the opportunity it gives you to talk about feelings and provide comfort.

Whilst the activity is underway, what's the best way to encourage your child to open up? Have a look at some of our conversation starters.

Want to have conversation starters on hand? You can also download the full list.

Download the full list of conversation starters

Here are some things you could ask to get the conversation started:

  • What was the best bit of your day?
  • What was the worst bit of your day?
  • What did you do today that made you proud?
  • How are you feeling?
  • What would you like to talk about?

If your child is having a hard time, you can try to find out how they’d like to be supported by asking gentle questions like:

  • How can I support you through this?
  • Do you want to talk about what’s going on?
  • Is there anything you need from me? Space, time to talk, time to do something fun?
  • What was the biggest problem you had today? What helped?
Is there anything you need from me? Space, time to talk, time to do something fun?

What to do if your child doesn't want to talk

A mother reassures her son by putting her hand on his head

Reassure them that they can talk to you at any time. You could say things like:

  • You can talk to me, I’m here for you.
  • If you need to talk to someone else, that’s okay too.
  • If you talk to me about what is worrying you, I can do my best to help.
  • Even if I don’t understand, know that I want to.
  • We’re going to get through this together.

You could also see whether other forms of communication like writing a letter or texting would make it easier for your child to let you know what’s going on.

Remember that you know your child. You can tell when it isn't the right time or they aren’t in the mood to talk.

If you need to talk to someone else, that’s okay too.

What to do if your child tells you they’re struggling

If your child tells you they’re struggling, it’s important to make sure they feel seen and heard.

When responding, it helps to:

  • 1. Validate their feelings. You could say ‘it’s really understandable that you’re feeling…’ to let them know that their feelings are okay.
  • 2. Thank them for sharing what’s going on and be encouraging about the way they’ve opened up.
  • 3. Let them know that you love them, you're there for them, they can talk to you whenever they need to, and you can help them get support if they need it.
  • 4. Ask them if there's anything you could do that they would find particularly helpful.
  • 5. Spend time together thinking about what’s making them feel this way. It could be something at home or school, a relationship with a friend or family member or something else.
  • 6. Let your child know about the helplines, textlines and online chat services that are available - which you can find at the end of this guide. Young people can find it difficult to talk and worry about upsetting their parents, so reassure them that it’s okay to open up to other people.
  • 7. Remind your child that this is temporary. Reassure them that things can change and they can feel better.
  • 8. Avoid conversations at the height of distress. It's important to be there for them, but it can be more helpful to talk about the causes when things are feeling calmer.
Play Video: Tips for providing emotional support Tips for providing emotional support

It can be tempting to try to fix everything straightaway, but try to focus at first on really listening and providing emotional support. 

If you’re worried about something that’s come up in the conversation, be honest about how you see things and how you want to support them. If you think your child needs some professional support, making an appointment with a GP, and looking into counselling or therapy, are good places to start. It can also be helpful to speak to their school or college about what support they can offer.

You can find out how to go about this, and how to access other services, by reading our guide to getting support from mental health services.

Getting support from mental health services
A mother and daughter looking at each other
'How can I support my child?' is one of the questions I am asked most often. One simple-sounding answer I often give is: really listen to them.
Emma Cumberland, Trauma and Mental Health Informed Practitioner

Where to get further help

Useful helplines and websites

  • YoungMinds Parents Helpline

    We support parents and carers who are concerned about their child or young person's mental health. Our Parents Helpline provides detailed advice and information, emotional support and signposting.

    You can speak to us over the phone or chat to us online.

    You can speak to us over webchat between 9.30am and 4pm from Monday-Friday. When we’re closed, you can still leave us a message in the chat. We’ll reply to you by email in 3-5 working days.

    Opening times:
    9.30am-4pm, Monday-Friday
  • The Mix

    Free, short-term online counselling for young people aged 25 or under. Their website also provides lots of information and advice about mental health and wellbeing. 

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    They have a free 1-2-1 webchat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, Monday - Friday
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • Ollee

    A virtual friend for 8-11 year olds and their parents that helps families think about feelings and talk about difficult topics. Download the app.

  • Tellmi

    Formerly known as MeeToo. A free app for teenagers (11+) providing resources and a fully-moderated community where you can share your problems, get support and help other people too.

    Can be downloaded from Google Play or App Store.

  • Black Minds Matter

    Connects Black individuals and families with free professional mental health services across the UK.

    You can get in touch here.

  • Muslim Youth Helpline

    Provides faith and culturally sensitive support for young Muslims. 

    Online chat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 10pm, 365 days a year

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

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This form is not a mental health support service. We cannot reply to this. If you or your child are at immediate risk of harm, call 999 and ask for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E. If you are worried about your child’s mental health, call our Parents Helpline on 0808 802 5544, Mon-Fri, 9:30am – 4pm. If you are struggling with your own mental health, call Samaritans on 116 123.

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