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Mental health and kids: Start the conversation

Parents need support to start the conversation about mental health with their children.

OHIO, USA — From the pandemic to everyday life, kids are facing more pressure and distraction than ever before, a combination of factors that has led to a mental health crisis among children in the United States. 

That crisis means that, more than ever, caregivers need to be equipped to talk daily to their children about thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Results of a new national survey conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of On Our Sleeves, the national movement for children’s mental health, found that while most parents of kids under 18 know that it’s important to talk with their children about mental health, but many are unsure of where to begin.

Furthermore, less than half of respondents say they experienced open conversations about mental health while growing up, likely leaving many unsure of how to start — and continue — the conversation with their kids.

“We know that conversation is one of the simplest, most effective ways to make an impact, break stigma and give kids a voice when it comes to their mental health,” said Ariana Hoet, PhD, clinical director of On Our Sleeves and a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Our research shows that parents know this, too and they’ve shared that they need additional support in starting and maintaining these important mental health conversations.”

The national survey found more than half of parents of kids under 18 (59%) need help knowing how to start the conversation around mental health with their children.

Less than half of Americans (43%) say their family talked about mental health openly when they were growing up.

To help parents, caregivers and educators take the first step, On Our Sleeves launched Operation: Conversation, a campaign to encourage adults to sit down with the children in their lives to start — and continue — the conversation to support mental health. 

Allowing children to have a regular, open space to share their thoughts, feelings and emotions can increase the likelihood that parents and caregivers will notice when their children need support with a mental health concern.

How to start: 

Set the stage.  If your family creates a daily habit of checking in and talking with each other, it will make conversations about their mental health or concerns easier.

Ask open-ended questions. These conversations can include all kinds of topics, not just emotions or behaviors. The goal is to create the habit of feeling comfortable sharing with you.

Find the right time for difficult conversations. Pick a time when everyone is calm and emotions are not high. Ask permission to start the conversation and if your child is not ready, ask them when a good time would be. Make sure you’re in a private area with low interruptions.

Operation: Conversation features free conversation starters, tip sheets and educational resources to open the lines of communication between caregivers and children. 

It also shows caregivers how to react to conversations in a positive way that won’t lead children to shut down, feel worse or not be open to talking in the future.

For more information and resources to start conversations with children that promote mental wellbeing, visit OnOurSleeves.org.

*Editor's Note: The video in the player above is from a previous report. 

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