Family Experience, Parents, Volunteers

On Our Sleeves: The Importance of Conversations for Children’s Mental Wellness

Earlier this month, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio supporters and volunteers attended Girl Pulse 2023—a virtual event to unpack girls’ needs around mental health, workforce development, equity and access, and how Girl Scouts makes a positive difference.

We were thrilled to be joined by Katherine Winner, MD, Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for Dayton Children’s Hospital during our conversation. Now, the team from Dayton Children’s Hospital is sharing helpful advice for all those working and living with children—including Girl Scout volunteers and caregivers. Keep reading to learn tips for talking with children about mental health.

This generation of children, especially young girls, are facing many mental and emotional challenges daily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has new data that shows:

  • Nearly 3 in 5 (57%) of U.S teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021.
  • There was a 2-time increase in depression and anxiety symptoms among youth during the pandemic.
  • One in five children are living with significant mental health concerns.
  • Half of all lifetime mental health concerns start by age 14.

While these statistics might sound scary and make us feel hopeless, there are ways to help! On Our Sleeves at Dayton Children’s Hospital focuses on the development of healthy children who know how to build meaningful relationships. We do this by encouraging adults in their lives to start conversations about mental wellness.

Why should we have conversations?

Research has found that children who have conversations are better equipped to:

  • Make friends
  • Appropriately get their needs met and ask for help when needed
  • Develop social skills
  • Learn and practice empathy
  • Build a strong, connected foundation with members in their community

All of these skills help to improve their mental wellness.

How to have meaningful conversations

Starting the conversation might sound simple enough, but have you ever asked your troop how their day was only to be met with stares or monotone answers of “fine?” If you are wondering how to have more meaningful conversations:

  1. Ask open-ended questions that allow the child to think and share their own ideas and feelings. Try asking questions like: How were you brave today? What is the best thing about today? What is one way you can show kindness to someone else? When you feel sad, what is something you can do to help yourself feel happy again?
  2. Listen to their responses and repeat back the feeling words you hear. Here are some examples: “It sounds like you were sad that your friend didn’t invite you to their birthday party,” or, “I would have felt embarrassed too if that happened to me!”
  3. Thank them for sharing their story, and find intentional ways to incorporate meaningful conversations into your routine. You could say, “Thank you for sharing! I am always here to listen to you.” Try starting off each troop meeting or activity with a conversation starter question.

The movement for children’s mental health

While many children are facing challenges with their mental health and wellness, we know that children don’t wear their thoughts on their sleeves. We may not be able to tell what they’re feeling and experiencing internally or when they need more support and help. That’s why the On Our Sleeves movement was created: to build a world where mental health is part of the upbringing of every child. Our mission is to give expert-created resources to all U.S. communities so everyone can understand and promote mental health for children.

The experts at On Our Sleeves have come up with several lists of conversation starter questions that you can use to jump-start these conversations. We also have tips, guides and free resources covering a long list of children’s mental wellness topics. For access to all this and more, join the On Our Sleeves movement today!

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