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Posted on 08/31/2021

Talking To Your Child Or Teen About Their Mental Health Diagnosis

Talking To Your Child Or Teen About Their Mental Health Diagnosis


How do I talk to my child about a diagnosis?


Once diagnosed with a mental health condition, disability, disorder, or syndrome, parents begin to wonder “when and how should I tell my child?” While there is not a universal age or guideline in which is the best time to discuss a diagnosis with your child, there are a few signs that can help determine if your child is ready.

Your child may begin to ask questions after their diagnosis and sometimes even before they are formally diagnosed, such as “Why do I ____________?”, “Am I different?,” “Why Can’t I____________?” or “Will I be able to do things that other kids are doing?” If these questions are left unaddressed, your child may start to misunderstand their disability or start filling in the blanks with their own imagination.  

Begin to discuss their needs even before your child starts asking questions, once you feel confident that your child is mentally and emotionally able to process the information about their diagnosis. Sometimes children will bring up on their own that they are noticing differences in themselves compared to others.  Use that opportunity to address their questions and observations and begin to pave the way for more open dialogue as they mature. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Be completely honest and transparent with your child – Tell your child about the ups and downs, strengths and challenges related to their diagnosis. Give them opportunities to identify and express their feelings.
  • Help them prepare for the potential questions others may ask –Brainstorm questions that might be asked and ideas for how they can respond.  You might even talk about noticing comments or looks from others.
  • Don’t leave siblings out – Siblings also benefit from discussing a diagnosis. Children often have anxieties about “catching” what other children have.  They may also have feelings of guilt regarding their frustrations about being a sibling of a child with a different need, or guilty feelings that they are thankful that they are not the one with the condition, diagnosis or disability. They may also be jealous of the time and attention their sibling receives from his or her parents. Use proper terms and explain why and/or how the condition or disability happens. These can help diminish the concerns of siblings.
  • Keep a positive mindset – Reassure your child that their diagnosis does not define them. Emphasize that we are all different.  Each of us our own unique qualities and strengths to celebrate, and challenges to manage. 
  • Not all struggles are permanent – Therapies, techniques, and technology are continually improving the way we live. adaptations and accommodations can help make life more manageable and pleasant.

Looking Beyond The Label

Remember, whatever the diagnosis may be, it’s just a word.  Aspergers, ADHD, autism, anxiety, etc. is a medical formality-a box that holds all of the individual symptoms, behaviors, or potential issues. If your child refuses to be defined by the label, that is completely okay. Some children may get angry about having a name to go with what they are experiencing.  Talk to them about those feelings to help them cope.

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From counselors to parent coaches, can help you find providers in your area to help you navigate this issue.



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