A mother and son hold hands and bond at an outside table

Building supportive relationships with young people

Our tips and advice to support you to build trusting relationships where mental health conversations can happen.

Tips on building relationships between young people and adults

Young people have improved mental health and wellbeing as a result of positive relationships with adults in their community.  Supportive adults keep young people safe and let them know that they have somewhere to turn to when needed. We gathered youth workers, music tutors, sports coaches and mentors together to hear their top tips for building positive relationships where mental wellbeing can thrive.

Young people have told us they like it when adults set out the boundaries of their relationship early on. You’re not there to be their friend, or their teacher, and they might not have had many trusted adults in their lives, so they need you to set the boundaries for the relationship. What can you help a young person with, when and where can they contact you and what will you do if you can’t help them directly? Keeping consistent with your boundaries helps young people feel safe and know that you will treat them fairly.

Have a genuine interest in who a young person is as a person, as well as their wellbeing. Listen to what they say to you, ask them about things they are interested in and remember what they say. Following up on what they’ve said shows that you have listened and you care.

Take your time to learn young people’s names and their pronouns and use them. This helps young people feel seen and heard.

When you see a young person doing something positive – helping a friend, behaving well during your session, looking out for someone – compliment it!

Reflect on your own emotional literacy – how many emotions can you name? How does anger feel different to frustration? 

Don’t be offended if today they don’t want to spend time with you, or speak to you. Try again another time, especially if you’ve noticed a change in a young person’s behaviour.

When you’re spending some time with your young person be fully present with them. Give them your full attention. Remember you are the asset to this young person.

Where you can, actively listen to young people without interruptions. Be open, honest and real. This can look like asking them something interesting about themselves and share something about yourself.

Consider both youth culture and a young person’s cultural background. What do you know about the things that are influencing the way they understand the world? This could be big societal factors, like race or religion, or smaller things, such as pressure to do well at school or attitudes within their friendship groups. Listening to your young people is a great way to understand more about what is going on for them and the factors that are impacting their lives.

Give some time to talking as part of each session – timetable it in so they know that time is there.

Depending on your context, trying out something new together can create space to talk about mental health as well as build a positive sense of achievement.

Try a new move in your sports club. Tackle a new piece of music in your class. Or if you have the chance, paint a room or get outside and climb a hill!

Boost a young person’s confidence by trying something new, or something challenging. Shared experiences can really help to build rapport and relationships. It can also be easier for young people to talk about their feelings when they are doing other activities.

A young person's perspective

It was really when she just listened. I had a lot I needed to say, and everything was just accepted and understood. There was no judgement for anything I said. And at one point I said I was lucky to have her, and she said that actually she was lucky to have me. Just knowing that I mean a lot to somebody really made me feel better.
Young Minds Activist

Tips for setting boundaries

A key thing young people told us about their supportive adults is to clearly set the boundaries of your relationship . This way young people can set their own expectations, which helps them feel secure in understanding when and what they can share with you, and what you will do with that information .

  • Start with boundaries

    Take some time to know your own boundaries - when are you really available? Set the boundaries early on in your relationship rather than when you find your boundaries being pushed.

  • It's kind to be clear!

    Give time to clearly and gently set out your availability, especially if you think that is different to your young person’s expectations. Repeat your availability - it's easy to forget.

  • Stick to them

    Stick to your boundaries once you’ve set them - consistency is crucial in creating trust and understanding.

Tips from young people on building trusting relationships

  • Recognise that connection comes from relatability and sharing vulnerability.
  • Set boundaries and expectations at the beginning of a relationship.
  • Understand that each young person’s experience of mental health is subjective.
  • Create a welcoming and safe environment for young people e.g. private, quiet spaces for conversation that are accessible.
  • Recognise and appreciate diversity.
  • Consistency and reliability.

Other resources you might find helpful

Other resources you might find useful

See our guides and information that you can use or pass onto young people and their parents.