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How to Effectively Communicate with Kids with Mental Health Issues

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There are many mental health issues that affect children’s ability to communicate effectively: autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These are all conditions that can leave children unable or unwilling to communicate with their parents, friends, and teachers. It can be very frustrating for everybody involved, not least for the child themselves, who can feel isolated, scared, and even unloved. 

Fortunately, there are various types of therapy and other educational and social activities that can aid in communication. These methods can transform a child’s life and help them to be more socially and educationally functional. This article is a guide to four such methods that enable effective communication with children who have various mental health and behavioural issues. 

Social stories

ASD is a disorder that affects an increasingly significant number of children. Whilst scientists and medical professionals have so far been unable to identify the root cause of autism decisively, its various symptoms have long been evident. One of the main symptoms of autism is difficulty in empathy and empathetic communication. Autistic children, in particular, find it hard to recognise social cues and understand other people’s feelings, which results in them acting in an antisocial or insensitive way. 

Social stories are great for teaching children how they should act in different, commonly occurring social situations. They can be read together with a parent or teacher and show different scenarios such as two children sharing one toy or one child who is upset and needs comforting. The adult can talk about the scenario through with the child and ask them what they think is happening, how the different characters are feeling, and what they think should be done in that situation. Through the repeated exploration of these scenarios, the child will then be familiar with the situation if it arises in their own life and so will know how to communicate and act without upsetting themselves or anyone else. 

Art therapy

Art therapy has shown to have a positive effect on both children and adults who are suffering from a range of different social, mental, and emotional issues. For children with PTSD, there are various therapy services that can help, but art therapy is ideal for helping them communicate their feelings without using words. Children who have suffered a traumatic experience often stop speaking and this muteness can last forever if it is not effectively addressed. Qualified art therapists help children to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe, non-judgemental way. This helps the child to grow in confidence and through conversations about their artwork, a parent or therapist is able to gain greater insight into the child and so is able to help them more effectively. 


There are so many different mental conditions that can be helped through acting out different scenarios with a child. The great thing about role-playing is that it gives the child the freedom to communicate in whatever way they like whilst also introducing them to situations in which they would usually find communication difficult. Role-play is similar to social stories and the two are often used together. If the child has a birthday party coming up or it is their first day at a new school, role-play is the perfect way to help them prepare for a potentially emotionally difficult event. By playing out different potential scenarios with the child, they will see how their actions result in different outcomes so that when the real day comes, they will know how to communicate better with their friends or their new teacher. 

Sand therapy

Sand therapy is another method that is often used for children with both autism and PTSD. The child is encouraged to create their own world with different miniatures and models in a sandpit. It is an opportunity for the child to be creative and to express their inner thoughts in a non-verbal way. Sand therapists can observe the child’s world and ask them to explain what is going on. The important thing with sand therapy is that at the end of the session the world can be reset and the child can make a whole new one. A lack of communication skills is often the result of feelings of stress and anxiety but sand therapy helps the child to see that nothing is too serious and helps them to calm any anxiety they have. 


Being unable to communicate effectively can be so difficult for children and can amplify their mental issues. Needles to say, it’s difficult for parents, too. Addressing the underlying issues and helping the child face their own thoughts and feelings while also introducing them to others’ feelings is vital for assisting them in living a healthy and happy life. 


Image credit: Pixabay

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He interviews people within psychology, mental health, and well-being on his YouTube channel, The DRH Show.


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