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Let’s talk: Talking to your child about tough topics and behavioral health

Kids deal with tough situations on a daily basis — stress from schoolwork, social media pressures, or even scary or traumatic events. Sometimes emotions like sadness, anger or fear can become too much for kids to handle and can start to cause problems, like not getting along with other kids or trouble at school. It’s really important for us as parents to talk with our kids about these tough topics, but it can feel hard to know where to start.

Here are a few tips to make talking with your child a little easier.

Spend quality time together

With our busy schedules, we as parents can forget the power of downtime with our kids — as little as five minutes a day can have a big impact!

  • Activities like talking about events from the day, eating dinner, or playing a video game together can strengthen your relationship and help your child feel comfortable talking with you.
  • When spending time with your child, tell him or her what they are doing right. Comments like “You did a great job taking your plate to the sink after dinner” help kids feel good and teach them the behaviors we value as parents.

Ask open-ended questions

These kinds of questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no,” leading to better conversations. Open-ended questions send the message that we care about what our child has to say.

  • Start questions with “who,” “what,” “why” or “how.” For example, “How do you feel about what happened today?”

Be an active listener

As parents, we may have the urge to immediately tell our kids how to act or to try to solve the problems they face. It’s important to strike a balance between providing guidance and recognizing that our child is an individual with their own thoughts and feelings.

  • When your child is talking, limit distractions by putting away your cell phone. Look at your child and wait until they finish talking before you ask questions or express your opinion.
  • Tell your child what they just said by saying “What I heard you say is ___” to show that they were heard and understood.

Ask kids what they think will help

Your child may have a good idea of what will help them feel better. Just asking kids for their opinion lets them know you believe in them and their ideas and abilities.

  • Ask “What do you think could help?” or “How can I help you?”
  • If your child isn’t sure, let them know that’s okay. Brainstorming a list of things that make your child feel good can help too.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician

As with any area of your child’s health, if you have concerns about mental health, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

Our commitment

 Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has a vision that Wisconsin kids will be the healthiest in the nation. Supporting kids’ and teens’ mental and behavioral health is a key part of achieving that vision. We are committed to programs and services that help build resilience, promote mental health and support families.

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is proud to underwrite Gannett Wisconsin’s Kids in Crisis series in support of these commitments.