How to Talk to Your Family about Your Child’s Mental Illness


A child’s mental illness presents many challenges for parents.

Managing symptoms, finding the best treatment and navigating the insurance system are just a few of the hurdles parents face. Talking to family members about your child’s mental health disorder is another task that can seem a bit overwhelming at first. However, with an honest, open approach and a few guidelines to keep in mind, you can have healthy and productive conversations.

In this article, we’ll look at some tips for discussing your child’s mental illness with family.

Clear Up Misconceptions

Mental illness is shrouded in misconceptions and misinformation, and it’s important to separate the facts from the myths when talking to your family members. Children may not fully understand what’s going on with their sibling, or they may have fears and need your reassurance.

Be sure not to use euphemisms when discussing mental illness with children. For example, if you simply say the affected child “is sick,” young siblings may worry that the same thing will happen to them the next time they come down with a cold or flu.

Your spouse and the child’s grandparents may also have some preconceived notions about mental illness that need to be cleared up. Some family members might believe that discipline can correct certain behaviors that your child can’t control, or they may even be in denial about the illness itself.

Maintain an Ongoing Dialogue

child's mental illness

Talking about your child’s mental illness isn’t a one-time event. It’s important to keep clear and honest communication going, long after the initial diagnosis. Acknowledge that your child’s condition brings changes to the family, and ask your other children how those changes make them feel.

Siblings might feel like they’re not getting enough of your attention; they might also feel frustrated by any additional responsibilities they’ve had to take on. Carve out a bit of one-on-one time with each of your children when possible, and don’t forget to tell them how much you appreciate their help and support.

Provide Information About Your Child’s Mental Illness

Knowledge is power, and both the adults and children in your family will benefit from learning as much age-appropriate information as possible about your child’s mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource, providing fact sheets and other helpful information for people of all ages.1 Make it clear that family members can always come to you with questions or concerns about your child’s mental illness.

Mental illness is not uncommon among kids and adolescents; in fact, 13 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 15 were diagnosed with a mental health disorder in the past year.2 There’s no need to shy away from having honest conversations with your loved ones about your child’s mental illness. Open communication helps remove the stigma surrounding psychiatric disorders and create a family environment that’s conducive to healing.