Mental health conversation starters: 11–13 years
Physical changes, appearances and friendships – there is much to navigate in this challenging time.
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As your child enters puberty, they are better able to express their feelings, and have a stronger sense of right and wrong.
They can make their own choices about friends, sports and school. With this independence comes a bigger focus on their own personality, interests and friends.
They are also undergoing many physical changes like the starting of periods for girls and deepening voices among boys. For some children these changes might be worrying or frightening.
A time of change
Rapid physical changes combined with concerns about their appearance and the importance of friendships can affect a child’s mental and emotional well-being. It can be a challenging time for children as they navigate this important stage of development. Knowing that they can talk to you about their worries or problems can make a world of difference.
Children at this age can
- Experience moodiness – going back and forth between highs and lows.
- Feel burdened by schoolwork.
- Develop eating problems/concerns.
- Feel sad or anxious which can lead to lack of confidence, low self-esteem and other issues depending on the child.
How to start the conversation
- Make the time and space to start the conversation without any pressure or expectations.
- Consider a time like while doing chores, cooking or while travelling together.
- Let the conversation flow naturally – be conversational rather than ‘questioning’.
- Be sensitive to their mood – if they are having a bad day or are busy, choose a different time.
Open, honest and direct communication
If you notice changes in your child’s mood or behaviour, gently let them know you’ve noticed and ask if they would like to talk about it. For example:
- They don’t seem as sociable with their friends as before – did they have an argument?
- Their school grades go down – is there a particular subject they’re struggling with?
- They appear to have become moodier, sadder or quieter – is there something on their mind?
Listen: Actively try to listen to what they are saying without letting your thoughts and judgement guide the conversation. Respect and encourage your child’s opinion.
Acknowledge: Assure them that you understand their thoughts and feelings, encourage them to be open with you and reassure that you are there for them. Remind them that you were this age once too and remember experiencing the same feelings.
Offer solutions: Ask them if they have thought about what might need to change – “What do you think should be done?” If they haven’t, offer to listen and talk it through with them. Support them with what they need to feel better.
- Tell them what they should do. Instead, ask how you can help them.
- Dismiss or minimize their feelings. Remember, it is hard to open up about feelings which may be confusing for the child.
- Argue. Observe your own thoughts and feelings and watch out for conflict. Try and resolve any conflicts or arguments as soon as possible if this happens, apologize and start again.
- Blame others. Saying “This is your school’s fault!” for example, externalizes the problem but does not solve it.
- Compare. Avoid saying things like “Other children don’t have these issues.”
Remember: Patience and consistency are key
- At this age, your child might be expressing less affection towards you and sometimes seem rude or short-tempered.
- As they become more independent and want to be more in control, chances are you will encounter resistance from them at times. These conversations are new and can sometimes be uncomfortable for your child.
Remember, it may take some time, but try to always make it clear that you love them and you are only thinking of their well-being.