Survey reveals parents need support in starting mental health talks with their children

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A new national survey has found that while most parents with children under the age of 18 know it’s essential to talk with their kids about mental health, many don’t know where to begin.

The survey, conducted online within the United States, by The Harris Poll on behalf of On Our Sleeves, a national movement for children’s mental health, found that less than half of the survey’s respondents say they experienced open conversations about mental health while growing up. The survey was taken from April 5 to 7, 2022 among 2,063 U.S. adults ages 18 and older; 686 of those respondents are parents of children under the age of 18.

Other results of the survey revealed that:

  • Ninety-three percent of parents with children under the age of 18 said it is important for parents and caregivers to talk to their children about mental health.
  • Fifty-nine percent of parents of kids under 18 need help knowing how to start the conversation around mental health with their children.

As a result, On Our Sleeves has launched Operation: Conversation, a campaign to encourage adults to sit down with the children in their lives to start — and most importantly 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, according to the organization. Parents and caregivers can draw from free conversation starters, tip sheets and educational resources. 

As part of Operation: Conversation, behavioral health experts have recommended these initial steps for parents ready to start the conversations with their children:

  • Set the stage. The work begins before you even start the conversation. 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. Remember, your 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. 

Integrative practitioners working with families can point to this resource as a support for parents wanting to start having conversations with their children about mental health.