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Listening Is Key To Discussing Mental Health With Children

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – When it comes to having conversations with your children about mental health, it starts before there is an issue. KSL spoke to adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Matt Swenson who walked through the process of having that conversation. He said it all starts with listening.

“The best way to have a conversation with most teenagers is the joke with duct tape over your mouth. You know, imagine literally that you’re putting duct tape over your mouth and you’re just going mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm.”

He said many parents are frustrated after the conversation did not go as expected.

“Parents will come in and tell me they said everything perfectly, but you can just feel the tone and the expectation and the agenda and everything else and the kid shuts down. So, to some extent, I want to say it’s not about your words.”

He added, “If you really are connected and you’re attending to the safety, letting your kids be themselves, letting them talk. Remember the duct tape. The connection. I really am just looking at you as a unique individual who’s watching you struggle. I’m not trying to rescue you from your life. I just want to make sure you feel like I’m your companion as you live it.”

For adults interacting with children in any capacity, experts agree that creating a safe relationship is paramount when it comes to physical and emotional needs.

Dr. Swenson shared some ways on how parents can create that relationship.

“What I would prefer for parents to do is to look at their children in an unconditional way. After you’ve read a story, when you’re eating dinner, take an extra moment to just really look in their eyes and smile, and say ‘I just love hearing about your life.’”

He said that extra effort will pay off. “When connection is there, you will be so surprised at how your kids are more obedient, are listening a little better are doing more. If every person who had any interaction with a child throughout the day woke up every morning and said, ‘What am I doing today to deliberately and thoughtfully create a sense of safety, connection, and confidence in the children in my life?’ I think we’d make a big dent in the problem.”

If additional help may be needed there are many places to get help.


If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the Utah State Crisis Line1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

Additional Crisis Hotlines 

  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741 
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386 

Online resources 

In an emergency 

  • Call 911 
  • Go to the emergency room 
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