Tips for Supporting Communication between Parents/Caregivers and Their Children and Teens
- Creating regular opportunities to talk with children and youth can have a big impact on their health and well-being.
- Parents and caregivers can promote healthier and safer experiences by making a habit of knowing about their children’s and youth’s lives and connecting with them through regular check-ins.
- Connecting with children or youth can reduce their risk for poor mental health and other health risks.
Parents, families, or caregivers can make these conversations a normal part of the family’s daily activities.
There are actions you can take to encourage open communication. This means that your child or teen feels free to express their feelings and ideas to you. Open communication can help strengthen your relationship with your child or teen.
Active listening is when you let your child share their thoughts and feelings without interruption. Once they are finished sharing, try to repeat back to them what you heard in your own words. This shows you heard what they had to say and understood what they meant.
You can build connections with your kids by asking them about their interests and being curious about their lives. This can include asking them and getting them to talk to you about their hobbies, friends, or what they are doing after school. Encouraging your kids to share what has been happening to them, things they like to do and why, and what they think and feel can build connection.
Make it safe for your kids to share what has been happening with them and what they’re thinking and feeling without worries that you’ll be angry with them or punish them. This can make it more likely that they’ll keep sharing with you. There may be times when your kids tell you things that surprise you or make you uncomfortable but do your best to be understanding as your first reaction. Repeat back what you are hearing and ask if you have it right before asking more questions or saying what you’re thinking. While certain things they tell you might lead to some follow-up, it is important that you make sharing things with you as safe and comfortable as you can.
Your kids may not always want to share things with you and like all relationships, it may take time to build open communication. Creating regular opportunities for you and your kids to share will help communication grow. These kinds of conversations can happen any time—whenever you’re on the way somewhere with them, while you’re doing things together at home, or whenever you have time with them.
Here are some ways you can start conversations with your child or keep conversations going with them.
Things to say to get conversations started.
- “What was the best and worst part of your day?”
- “What is taking up space in your mind right now?”
- “How are you feeling about ___?”
- “If you could start the day over, what would you do differently?”
- “What did you do today that you’re most proud of?”
- "Is there anything you’re worried about today/this week?"
- “It seems like something’s bothering you. Do you want to talk about what’s going on?”
- “What is something that makes you feel calm/happy/secure?”
If you have concerns about your child’s emotional well-being, behavioral adjustment, or overall mental health, reach out to a qualified professional like your primary care provider or your child’s pediatrician. Continue to have open and honest discussions with your child, offering encouragement and support.
Things to say to keep conversations going.
- “I’m so sorry you’re feeling this way. What do you need right now?”
- “I hear you.”
- “It’s really understandable that you’re feeling this way.”
- “I’m so glad you told me about ___”
- “That sounds really difficult. How can I help?”
- “We’re in this together.”
- “I love you, and nothing can ever change that.”
- “You are enough, just the way you are.”
If your teen doesn’t want to talk
- “It’s ok to keep things private, but if you’d like to tell me more about ____, I’m here to listen.”
- “It’s understandable that you might not want to talk about this right now. I’m here to listen when you’re ready.”
- “If you need to talk with someone else about this, that’s ok too.”
- “I may not totally understand what you’re going through but know that I want to.”
If you, or someone you know, needs help with a mental or substance use disorder, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889, or text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U), or use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to get help.