Mental Health Tips

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How to Start Conversations

August 19, 2021

Starting conversations with your children, friends, family members, or coworkers can build a strong foundation and strengthen your relationships with them. By keeping a routine of checking-in, you’ll be able to identify any challenges they might have, allowing you to problem-solve and support them.

While talking about mental health can seem daunting, simple conversations can make a  difference. Try these conversation starters and techniques during your next check-in.

Ask an open-ended question

When you check-in, you don’t have to dive right into a conversation about mental health. Simply  asking open-ended questions is a good place to start.

Here are a few examples of open-ended questions:

  • What did you like about today?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What do you need help with?
  • What are you looking forward to?
  • How can I help you make tomorrow a good day?

Use “I” statements, not “you” statements

By using “I” statements, you steer clear of making judgments about the other person. Here are a few examples of “I” vs. “you” statements:

Don’t say: You don’t consider my feelings because we don’t spend time together.

Do say: I feel upset because I want to spend time with you.

Don’t say: You are always mean when you talk to me.

Do say: I feel hurt when you use that tone of voice.

Don’t say: You are careless and irresponsible.

Do say: I care about you and your safety. I worry when you stay out late.

You can form your own “I” statement by starting with “I feel…” Then, identify an emotion like happy, sad, upset, hurt, excited, or worried. Follow it with an example of the behavior that affected your feelings.

Be careful not to disguise “you” statements as “I” statements. Stick to your feelings and give examples that are objective, rather than passing judgment on the other person.

Practice active listening

Follow these steps to practice active listening:

  1. Always express your feelings using “I” statements.
  2. Take turns speaking, letting one person finish their thoughts without interrupting.
  3. Ask questions if you don’t understand. For example, “Can you help me understand what you mean when you say _______?”
  4. Repeat and clarify what the other person has said. For example, “What I hear you saying is ________, is that correct?”
  5. Repeat step two and three until you’re sure you understand what they’re saying.
  6. If you’re unable to find a solution or common ground, it’s okay to take a break and revisit the conversation later.

Use emojis or images to identify emotions

When starting conversations with kids, a helpful tool you can use is an emotions chart, which uses illustrations, images, or emojis to represent feelings. You can also use an emotions chart with people of all ages who find it challenging to identify their emotions. 

Download and print our free emotions chart so you can use it during your check-ins at home!

You can also try open-ended questions with kids in addition to using an emotions chart. Using the skills above is encouraged, even when you talk to your child.

Keep trying and be genuine

Any relationship takes work and consistent effort. Keep practicing the conversation skills above during your daily or weekly check-ins with your friends and family.

If you’re a parent or a teacher, these tips can help your child or students develop good communication skills they can use in everyday social situations. They’ll learn how to identify their emotions and ask for help when they need it.

As an employer, starting conversations with your staff and coworkers can help you manage workplace mental health and keep tabs on your employees’ well-being.

For more mental health tips, head to our Resources tab where you’ll find mental health resources for parents and businesses.

Take the pledge to check-in!

If you’re ready to take charge and start the conversation, take the pledge to check-in. We’ll send you resources, tips, and tools you can use to keep the conversation going.

The Check-In Project is a mental health initiative of Wraparound Osceola. We strive to provide families, schools, and employers with the tools and resources needed to check-in with each other and provide the support needed to break the stigma surrounding mental health.

Email: info@thecheckinproject.ORG// Phone: 407-870-4897