Now that kids are back in school, making time to talk to them is more critical than ever to ensure your child is emotionally healthy.

Diana Rivera, a psychiatric social worker at Cook County Health’s Morton East Health Center, has some tips for talking to your kids and getting them to open up.

  • Use open-ended questions. Try to avoid questions that can be answered by yes or no. Questions like: What class do you enjoy and why? Do you have a favorite teacher? What was the best part of the school day? Tell me about your day; what was good or bad about it?
  • Don’t forget to ask about lunch. “This is important because for kids with anxiety or facing pressure, they will sometimes skip lunch,” Ms. River said. Ask kids if they enjoyed lunch or if they ate everything?
  • Talk about after school programs. Many kids many not realize about the range of clubs or after school programs that are offered. Ask them if they know about the programs and are interested.
  • Ask your kids if they met their school counselor or social worker. Let your kids know when/how these adults can be a resource/ support to them.
  • Find out about friends. What are their friends interested in? Have they met anyone new?
  • Ask how you as the parent can support your child. What do they need from you?

Even when you have these conversations can be important. Sometimes teens can respond better when these questions are asked in a car and they don’t have to look directly at you, making them feel grounded. Some teens may even respond better when questions are asked over a text. For younger children, do it while playing a game or having a meal so they feel comfortable and relaxed.

Be intentional with how you ask questions. For younger children, ask about the high and low of the day. Lows can help you know if they are struggling. For older kids, change can be difficult and they don’t always know what anxiety feels like. Check in. Do they feel comfortable and safe at school? Do they have enough time to get to class? Are they worried about things they hear in the news (violence, COVID, monkeypox)? This can help you address problems early on.

Keeping communication open with kids at any age is important to make sure they are growing emotionally and are mentally healthy.

If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, reach out to your child’s doctor for resources to help.