Starting the conversation
Make space and time to talk
It’s important to create an open environment where children and young people can talk about how they feel without judgement.
Make time to check in with the children and young people you work with. Talk about how they are feeling, in large or small groups or on a one-to-one basis as appropriate.
In schools, colleges or academies, you can integrate discussions about mental health and wellbeing into the curriculum. This will help you understand how pupils feel about a particular issue you’re discussing.
It’s also important to give children and young people space to talk about what is happening globally, nationally or locally – such as climate change, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, terrorism, crime or a bereavement.
> Find out more about how to have difficult conversations with children
It can be difficult to start a conversation with children about their feelings and mental health.
The Childline website provides age-appropriate information and advice about a range of topics that can help you to start a discussion. You can also signpost children to Childline if they need additional support before or after a conversation.
Topics covered include:
Childline Kids provides tailored information and advice for under 12s, using age-appropriate language.
We’ve also put together a reading list of books on mental health from our library catalogue. You could share some of these with children, young people and their families to help get the conversation going.
Encouraging children to speak out
Every child and young person should have trusted adults they can talk to about any worries, concerns or questions they may have. Help them identify who these adults are by talking with them about who they trust and are most comfortable talking to. Just knowing there is someone to turn to when they need to can have a positive impact on a child’s mental health.
Make sure the children and young people you work with know you’re there for them. Remind them they do not need to deal with concerns on their own and talk to them regularly about where they can access support. This might include teachers, family members and services such as Childline.
Different ways for children to express themselves
Some children may feel uncomfortable about talking to an adult. They might prefer to turn to other young people for help and support (Mental Health and Camelot Foundation, 2006) or prefer expressing their thoughts and feelings through creative activities.
Children of different ages, with different developmental levels, or with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), may not be able to express themselves or communicate clearly or easily. They may require more help, patience and different ways of expressing themselves.
Consider providing a range of ways for children to express themselves. This could be through drawing, listening to or creating music or writing their thoughts and feelings down in a journal. They may want to share these with you or keep them private.
Children can talk with other young people on Childline’s moderated message boards or use Childline’s Toolbox which provides online activities for children to express themselves, including:
- an art box where children can put their feelings into words or drawings
- games to take their mind off how they’re feeling
- a mood journal to help children record what they’re feeling and why
- a buddy zone aimed at under 12s which includes activities and games.