This content is part of a sponsorship by Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Starting a conversation with your children has never been more important than it is today
While every generation of children has faced its own set of issues, it seems today’s children are dealing with an unprecedented number of challenges. As a result of the pandemic, every aspect of their lives has been disrupted, including home, community and school. Even prior to the pandemic, alarming mental health trends in children were beginning to emerge. In fact, in his 2021 advisory, “Protecting Youth Mental Health,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared children’s mental health had reached a crisis level.
Today, every parent and caregiver should be in tune with how their children are feeling emotionally. One of the most effective ways to understand how children are doing is to simply engage them in conversation. But starting those conversations and keeping them going is not always easy. So, On Our Sleeves®, one of the nation’s leading organizations dedicated to children’s mental health is committed to helping parents open the lines of communication.
As a starting point, it is important to note that all children want and need to be heard. When you talk to your children about their day-to-day routine, you can uncover any concerns they may have or problems they are experiencing. Once you know what your children are dealing with, you can help them problem solve, which builds their confidence for facing difficult moments in their life. The key is engaging in a conversation that doesn’t pressure children, but rather, encourages their participation.
These three strategies will help you start open and honest conversations.
1. Set the stage. Start by creating a daily habit of simply checking in with all members of the family. Make these check-ins easy and lighthearted. The goal at this point is to simply establish a routine for having conversations. Then, once a routine is established, it will be easier to have more serious conversations about mental health.
With any conversation, try to talk when there are fewer distractions, so children will be more focused. Family dinners, bedtime routines and car rides are all good opportunities.
As you begin to set the stage, remember children learn by watching us. Talking about your day and sharing your thoughts and feelings will encourage children to do the same. While it is important to communicate at your children’s developmental level, it’s okay to tell them you had a hard day, for example. When you open up about something that concerns you, it helps children learn that sharing emotions is normal behavior.
2. Ask open-ended questions. Avoid asking questions that lead to one-word answers. For example, ask your children to tell you about the best part of their day. When you give children the opportunity to talk about their experiences, they are more likely to share information about their feelings and concerns.
3. Find the right time for difficult conversations. Always begin these conversations when everyone is calm and emotions are in check. Make sure your child is ready to talk. If they aren’t, ask when would be a good time for them. Of course, if they don’t want to talk, don’t force the issue. Simply let them know you care about them and try again at a later time. Children are more likely to engage when they feel they have some control over the situation.
For complete information, download this guide, How to Start a Conversation With Kids.
Parents can also find additional information, including tips on how to keep the conversation going, at OnOurSleeves.org. Visit today to access downloadable guides on a wide range of children’s mental health topics.