How to Talk to Kids About Mental Health Issues (at any age)


How to Talk to Kids About Mental Health Issues


As parents, we need to talk to our kids about “scary issues.”  The stuff nightmares are made of.  Stranger danger, drugs, drinking, smoking, bullying, mental health issues, and suicide prevention/awareness.  All parents want to believe nothing bad will ever happen to their child, and then the impossible happens.  Everyday, kids are kidnapped, overdose, start smoking, trip the kid who’s different from them.  Youth suicide has become an epidemic in this country.  Everyday a kid attempts or completes suicide.  Here is the definitive guide on how to talk to kids about mental health issues (at any age.)


How to Talk to Kids about Mental Health Issues


Safety First

You may be thinking, children who are too young won’t be able to grasp the topic of mental health and suicide.  They aren’t too young too grasp the concept of wearing a helmet, don’t talk to strangers, or look both ways before crossing the street, etc.  Children are never “too young” to learn about any topic (with a few exceptions.)  I’ll give you age specific ways to speak to your kids about mental health issues and suicide.


How to Talk to Kids About Mental Health Issues (Grades K-2)

For kids under the 2nd grade, you should stick to the basics, but definitely introduce the topic of mental health.

1. Mental Health

A mental illness is similar to a physical illness only you can’t see it.  Explain how the illness is inside the person’s brain.

2. Trusted Adults

This is a huge topic to discuss with your younger children.  Your child should have multiple trusted adults, at school and at home.  At school, their trusted adult could be their teacher, principal, school nurse, etc.  At home, their trusted adult could be an aunt or uncle, a neighbor, or coach.  Explain to your child they can talk to their trusted adult about anything.  At this age, kids still feel more comfortable talking to their own parents but it is still a good idea to introduce the concept to younger children.

3.  Emotional Intelligence

A good way to explain this concept to your kids is to compare it to traditional intelligence.  As they are learning their ABCs and adding, they should also be learning to express their emotions in a positive way.  We all feel angry, frustrated, and nervous sometimes.  Let your child know, all their emotions are valid, but it’s unacceptable to throw things when we’re frustrated.  It’s easier for every one involved, if we talk about our emotions in a positive way, even if they are negative emotions.  We, as parents, lose our temper when we’re frustrated.  When we do, we should apologize to our kids, no matter their age, and tell them, it’s not ok to lose it every time you feel frustrated.  *I know easier said than done, but everything take practice.

4.  Bullying

Let your kids know what bullying is.  Explain to them “Words Can Hurt,” and the impact of those words is some times tragic.  Kids usually don’t understand, laughing at a child who gets the answer wrong in class, can be extremely hurtful.  Tell your child that kids come in all shapes and colors and to treat every one they meet with respect and courtesy


How to Talk to Kids About Mental Health Issues (Grades 3-5)

It’s at this age that you can start introducing self harm (intentional injury such as cutting, pinching) and an explanation of suicide.


1.  Mental Illness

Explain that mental illness is not contagious, it can be hereditary but you can’t catch a mental illness from someone.  Be sure to stress to your child, if they are ever feeling sad or nervous for more than a week, tell you.  Or have them speak to their trusted adult.

2.  Trusted Adults

Reinforce the purpose of your child’s trusted adult.  Make sure your child has the contact information for their “out of school” trusted adult.  In my case, my two best friends, are my children’s trusted adults.  They know that they will contact either of them, if they need to talk.  My fiancé is also a trusted adult for my girls.  They talk to him all the time about things they think I will get “mad” about.


3.  Coping Skills

Discuss how to cope with loss, divorce, and other major stressors.  Tell your kids, it’s OK to talk about how they feel to you, other family members, friends, or their trusted adult.  Explain to them they are not to blame for the loss (such as divorce or separation.)  Talk about healthy coping strategies (talking and doing things with friends, journaling, mediation.)  And talk about unhealthy coping skills (eating too much, placing blame, isolating yourself.)


4.  Self-harm and Suicide

At this age, you should be able to explain what self-harming and suicide is.  Explain to your child what self-harm is, cutting, pinching, burning yourself or it could manifest as pulling your hair out.  Talk about why people would harm themselves (trouble at home or school, bullying, lack of confidence.)

Then explain what suicide is and the synonyms for suicide (killed themselves or ended their life.)  Talk about some of the reason why someone would want to attempt or complete suicide.  Explain to your child what to do if they having those kinds of thoughts.  Also, talk to your child about what to do if they know a friend or classmate is having these kind of feelings.  Always go straight to an adult if a friend or classmate says they are going to harm themselves.


5.  Personal Assets

Analyze your child’s personal assets, this could be, compassionate, confident, intelligent, well-spoken, like to read, basically anything your child could use to help them in life.  Then talk to your child about how they can use those assets in their everyday life.

It may sound complicated for a 5th grader but I promise it’s not, once they understand.  Here’s an example, an 11 year old girl is compassionate, kind, and understanding (assets) but not so much confident or outspoken.  In this situation we wouldn’t suggest for this girl to join the debate club.  Instead, we would steer her towards the welcoming committee that the school offers to new students.   Talk about how everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  It’s when we realize what our strengths are and then use them to our advantage, we really shine.


How to Talk to Kids about mental health issues


How to Talk to Kids About Mental Health Issues (Grades 6-8)

Kids at this age can get the full explanation on mental health issues.


1. Mental Illness

Explain the numerous different mental illnesses (depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, etc.)   Let them know what the warning signs of mental illness are (behavior & personality changes, sleep problems, emotional outbursts, suicidal thoughts.)  Tell them, it is OK to ask for help, it does not make you weak in any way.  It’s at this age when kids won’t want to talk to their parents about their issues.  This is a huge reason why getting your child a trusted adult early on in life is imperative.  This is when you’re going to rely on your trusted adult to be there for your child any time day or night.


2. Bullying

The fact is, bullying peaks in middle school, with 25% of students, claiming they were bullied at some point.  Talk to your child about the strong correlation between bullying and mental health issues and suicide.  Explain to your child, one-third of the time, the victim never even tell an adult about what’s happening to them.  It is for this reason that kids cannot be bystanders.  If they see some form of bullying happening, it is their responsibility to tell someone, their trusted adult at school or home, a teacher, anyone.  Children who have been bullied report a variety of social and emotional problems-anxiety and insecurity can lead to depression and suicidal ideation.


3.  Personal Assets & Protective Factors

Explain how personal assets and protective factors promote and support healthy emotional development.  Personal Assets are an individuals strengths and weaknesses (such as confidence, compassionate, kindness, well-spoken, positive peer relationships.)  Protective Factors are the skills and resources a child has that could help deal with stressful situations (parental involvement, positive interactions at school, trusted adult in the school system.)

Caring family relationships make it less likely a child will turn to an unhealthy coping method such as substance abuse.  It increases the chances of your child coming to you for help in times of trouble.  Periodically go over your child’s strengths and weaknesses with them as they will change with time.

4.  Coping Skills

Go more in depth with your middle schooler about healthy and unhealthy coping skills.  Appropriate coping skills for this age group would be having a conversation with your family or trusted adult, journaling, doing something they enjoy such as art or writing, supportive friends, exercising.  Some inappropriate coping skills would be overeating, wanting to be alone, anger and rage, substance abuse, and thoughts of death or suicide.


5.  Myths about Suicide

There are tons of myths about suicide, I’m going to go over a few but know that there are hundreds that I could tell you.

Myth #1-If adults talk to young people about suicide, it will put the idea in their heads.  This is the furthest thing from the truth.  If anything, it would help kids to realize that we, as adults, understand what they are feeling.  When we validate their feelings and give them a chance to ask questions about mental illness, we will be able to see if they need help.

Myth #2-Most young people who complete suicide showed no warning signs.  Actually, there were probably numerous warning signs, but if you aren’t educated on what to look for, you wouldn’t know them.  It is for this reason that stronger suicide prevention programs should be in communities and schools.

Myth #3-the biggest of them all-there is no correlation between bullying and suicide.  It’s quite obvious that there is a very strong correlation between bullying and suicide.   It may not be the direct cause of the suicide but bullying definitely harms children way more deeply than we know.  If you suspect you’re child is being bullied, call the school, ask for their help.  Inform the school that your child’s moods have changed drastically and you would like someone to keep an eye on them at school.


6.  Where to Go For Help

Mental Health America has great screening tools that a young person or the parent of a young person can take.  The results will tell you what they suggest to do next.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Also, talk to your kids about going to an adult, at school, if they hear any friend or classmate talking about attempting suicide.  The school should know what to do in the situation.




Although, it seems like talking about suicide and mental illness, to kids, is macabre, it is very necessary.  The fact is we talk about scary stuff to our kids all the time.  We talk about not talking to strangers, drugs and addiction, smoking, and bullying.  Every day a new threat pops up that petrifies us, as parents, cyberbullying and online predators.  Talking to your kids about mental health issues and suicide will not only help them, it may help to save another kids life.


If you would like more info on how to talk to kids about mental health issues, I have an upcoming webinar on the subject.  Subscribe to be the first to hear about the dates.  Also, please share, in case other parents are in need of the information.  Thank you


How To Talk To Your Kids About “13 Reasons Why”

The Facts


By now every parent in the world has heard of Netflix’s, 13 Reasons Why and everyone has some sort of opinion, whether good, bad, or indifferent.  I’m not going to tell you what is “good” for your child to watch.  Good and bad play no part in what the grand scheme of the show is trying to show.  Was it graphic…yes…suicide is graphic.  Did it blame other people and not talk about mental health…yes…but sometimes after what happened to a girl like Hannah, anxiety and depression creep in.

All this is not the point.

The fact is, certain shows or movie or video game or even commercials aren’t “good” or “bad” for your child.  It’s how those things are explained to your child that matters.

Here are some tips on how to talk to your kids about “13 Reasons Why.”


13 Reasons Why
Welcome to your tape


Some Background First

As many people who read my blog know, I lost my sister to suicide in 2015.  Her death has sparked something in me.  After constantly reading about youth suicide in the news, I’ve recently made it my mission to have a formal suicide prevention program in every school in America.  I also want to include coping skills, mindset makeovers, and a “caring adult” (where every child will have and name a trusted adult they can turn to in times of crisis) aspect to those programs.


Here are a few tips on how to talk to your kids about “13 Reasons Why.”  Even if you don’t allow your child to watch the show, they are going to watch it at a friend’s house, or hear enough about it to be confused.  Instead of being up in arms about the airing of the show, be up in arms about the premise of the show.  The reality is, kids are killing themselves and, in some cases, other kids are to blame.  Just give me the benefit of the doubt and read further.


13 reasons why



Words DO hurt

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can sometimes kill me.  Talk to your children about the power of words.  As adults, we know that words can be said in anger, that can never be taken back-and they hurt-BAD.  Instill in your child the belief, “Don’t say anything to another child, you wouldn’t want said back.”

On the other hand

Explain to your child, no matter what anyone says about them, believing in yourself & having the confidence to know you’re amazing-are the most important traits to have.  This confidence is what is going to get you through your day.  Try to explain to them (I say try, because they are not going to believe you)-this will not last forever.

Middle school doesn’t last forever

High school doesn’t last forever

Things can change-things will change-just give life a chance


Things can change-things will change-just give life a chance Click To Tweet


DON’T Allow Anyone To Put Their Hands On You

Whether it’s a girl touching your hair, to a boy snapping your bra-it is not ok for someone to touch you.  It is not acceptable and should not be tolerated by the child, the teacher, the parents, or the school system.  Talk to your child about having a trusted adult they can go to, if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you about things like this.

And God forbid, someone forces themselves on your child…..

My children know who their trusted adults are and they know how to get in touch with them if need be.

Also, in serious situations, such as this, not only should you contact the school verbally.  You should also send something to the school in writing, copying your Board of Education, explaining the situation in detail.  School should be a safe place for kids and it’s turning into a nightmare for some kids.  It needs to stop.


DON’T Be A Bystander

I know, in this day and age, we tell our kids, “Don’t get involved in other people’s drama.”  We, as parents, need to understand, our children witnessing someone being humiliated or (EVEN WORSE) hurt by another child, is detrimental to their mental health, as well.

They need to feel comfortable, going to a trusted teacher, or you, and letting you know that another child is being hurt at school or around the neighborhood and you need to help that child.  Whether it is by contacting the child’s parents, the school, the police-just get someone to help the situation.  Instill in your child-If you see something, say something.


DO Explain Suicide

Unfortunately my kids, who are 8, 9, and 11, know about suicide.  When my sister killed herself, they were devastated.  I didn’t tell them at first.  I knew they were going to find out so I wanted to be the one who told them.  It was hard and they were confused (they’re still confused, I think) but they have come to a place of acceptance.  A place I will never get to.

You may disagree with my decision to tell them the truth

I figured in a time when 11 year olds are killing themselves, it’s better to be honest than politically correct.

Let them know the basics-

Suicide is not glamorous, it’s gory and raw

This is not a TV show-suicide is forever-it’s final-it’s the end

And the people left behind are devastated and broken and incomplete because of it.



13 Reasons Why


DO Take Their Feelings Seriously


Kids need to feel heard.  This is where that trusted adult comes in handy.  In some cases, kids feel it is their parent that is driving them to feel the feelings they’re having.  So obviously, they’re not going to go to that parent to discuss these feelings.

If your child does come to you showing signs of depression or anxiety, take these symptoms seriously.  Talk to their pediatrician honestly about your child’s behavior.  They will supply you with instructions on what to do next.

Give your child the suicide prevention number 1-800-SUICIDE



In the end, whether you allow your child to watch “13 Reasons Why” or not-they are going to either watch behind your back or hear enough about it that they will know what it’s about.  Even if the show never existed, kids need to learn about suicide prevention.

They need to understand bullies are going to bully.  You can’t control how someone else acts.  What you can control is how you react to those actions.

The show has tons of pros and cons, but so do a lot of other shows, movies, video games, YouTube videos, etc.  There is only so much we can shield our kids from before the world is thrown in their faces.

In a perfect world, every kid would be happy and healthy and everyone would be friends but we have this world.  Try to make it as perfect as possible for your child.

Be the pillar of strength your kid needs-be their rock-be their constant

And if you can’t be-find them a trusted adult so they can go to them anytime they need them.  An aunt, uncle, teacher, coach, clergy can be there for them.


Did you allow your child to watch “13 Reasons Why?”  Did they watch it somewhere else?  How did you talk to them about it?  Let me know in the comments.


Also, please share this post with other parents.  Thank you