BayCare Kids and On Our Sleeves
Because kids don’t always wear their thoughts on their sleeves, it can be difficult to tell when a child is suffering or struggling. The mission of On Our Sleeves is to provide every community in America access to free, evidenced-informed educational resources necessary for breaking stigmas about kids’ mental health by educating families and advocates.
BayCare is a proud member of the On Our Sleeves Alliance, composed of leading corporations, youth-serving and health care organizations, ambassadors, and individuals. Together, we can ensure every family has access to these valuable resources to help their children.
If you or your child need immediate help due to suicidal thoughts:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Crisis Text Line: text "START" to 741-741.
- Tampa Bay Cares: call 2-1-1.
- BayCare Mobile Crisis Response Team (MRT) Pasco: County: call (727) 372-HELP (727-372-4357).
- BayCare Mobile Crisis Response Team (MRT) Hernando County: call (352) 467-OKAY (352-467-6529).
If there is an immediate safety concern, call 911 or go the nearest emergency room.
Positive Mental Health Starts with Conversation
While it’s hard to tell sometimes, the reality is that a child may appear to be thriving on the outside while secretly struggling on the inside.
Research shows that:
- One in five children experience a significant mental health disorder; less than half get the treatment they need.
- 50% of all lifetime mental health disorders start by age 14.
- 49% of kids in grades 4-12 have been bullied at least once in the last month.
Here are some tips to start a conversation with a child and keep it going.
How to develop Healthy Habits in Kids?
Habits are so important to mental health because they impact how we think, act, feel and behave. And when those habits are disrupted, it can take a toll and lead to mental fatigue, frustration and difficulty focusing. Whenever possible, help your kids adopt healthy practices and make those behaviors a part of your family's regular routine.
What is an Example of a Daily Habit?
- Your morning routine!
- Brush teeth
- Get dressed
- Eat breakfast
- Let the dog out
- Get your backpack/purse/work bag
How Can You Help Kids Form Good Habits?Follow the 3 R’s – and remember to start easy and make small steps toward the goal!
- Reminder (the trigger to start the action)
- Make it visual.
- A calendar or checklist works great.
- Put it on the fridge or in their room.
- Parents will need to give reminders at the start.
- Routine (the action you want to take)
- Make sure kids know specifically what they are expected to do.
- Practice together.
- Make sure they are capable.
- Reward (what you get for doing the action)
- Have the new behavior be rewarding to your child.
- Offer something special when the new routine is completed.
- This should be small, but meaningful:
- 2 pieces of small candy
- Extra screen time (10 minutes or so)
- Penny in the jar to earn something bigger at the end of the week
Practicing the 3 Rs in your daily lives will help form habits to reduce stressors on your children and your family
- Your morning routine!
How do you start conversations?1. Set the stage. If your family creates a daily habit of checking in with each other, it will make difficult conversations easier.
- Pick times with low distractions, such as family dinners, bedtime routines, car rides or short daily walks.
- Model the behavior. Children learn by watching us.
- If you share details about your day, thoughts and feelings, kids will learn to do the same. If you had a hard day, share that too at the right developmental level. This helps children learn that emotions are normal and they see how to cope with them by watching you.
2. Ask open-ended questions. You can talk about all kinds of topics, not just emotions or behaviors. Remember, your goal is to create the habit of comfortably sharing with each other. The questions below can help.
3. Find the right time for difficult conversations. Pick a time when everyone is calm. Ask permission to start the conversation and if your child is not ready, ask them when a good time would be.
What if they don’t want to talk?
If they don’t want to talk, that’s OK! If you try to push it, they will shut down more.
Compromise. Let them know you care about them and what’s going on in their lives, so you want time to check in. Ask them when a better time would be instead and try again. Children are more likely to engage if they feel some control or choice over a situation.
Information is also available in this video.
How do I keep the conversation going?
Starting the conversation with your kids about their thoughts, feelings and experiences may be the easy part.
Now that they’re talking, you may be thinking, "What do I say? How do I react?"
These are important questions because our goal is to keep them talking and to create an environment where they know they can keep coming back to us with any future problems or worries. So, we have to make talking to adults rewarding and pleasant!
How to Keep Kids Talking
- Notice your body language. As your child starts sharing, check in with yourself. If you are starting to feel upset, angry, or overwhelmed, pause and breathe. Remember this moment is about them, not how you are feeling (that can come later). Use body language that reflects openness and interest, such as nodding and eye contact.
- Don’t ask a lot of questions. You may have 100 thoughts a minute when your child is sharing something you did not know about or are concerned with. Remember: pause and let them guide the conversation. Asking a lot of questions can cause children to shut down or feel defensive. If the conversation gets stuck, you can try questions or statements such as:
- "And then what happened?" or
- "Tell me more about that..."
- Try reflective listening. Focus on what they are telling you instead of what you want to say next. Then repeat back what you just heard your child say.
- For example: "It sounds like you are feeling angry because you can’t go out with friends" or "I hear you saying school has been stressful recently."
- This allows your child to know you are truly listening, to clarify if that is incorrect, and to continue adding to the conversation without you having to ask questions.
- As much as we wish this was different, children do not have to share anything with us if they do not want to. So, when they do open up, thank them for choosing to do so!
- Praise can help them feel good about sharing and then they are more likely to do it again in the future.
- SAY THIS: "Thank you. That had to be hard to tell me, but you did still did." Or, "That was brave of you to share. Thank you." This helps you sound curious.
- AVOID SAYING THIS: "Why didn’t you tell me sooner?"
- Normalize emotions and do not judge or dismiss what your child is sharing. You can talk about situations in which you have felt the same or discuss role models who have gone through difficult situations. Statements such as "anyone in your situation would feel that way too..." can be confirming and relieving for children to hear.
- Avoid statements such as "There is no reason to feel that way."
- Also try not to place blame with statements like, "If you had not done that, you wouldn’t …"
- Take breaks. For difficult conversations, strong emotions may happen. Give yourself or your child a break, if needed. No one should feel forced to talk if they are feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes having a silly code word that shows a break is needed can help lighten the mood and remind everyone involved to pause. Pick a determined amount of time for the break and return to the conversation.
Now that they have told you what is going on, what do you do?
- Ask for their ideas first. Before jumping in with your questions and advice, ask them to problem solve. Ask questions like:
- “What do you want to do now?”
- “How can we make this better?”
- “How can I help?”
This lets them know you are on their team and allows them to feel empowered and listened to.
- Ask permission. Let them know you have some questions or ideas and ask when they want to hear them. Now is the time for you to be open about your emotions and thoughts (remember, sharing your adult emotions models that emotions are normal and OK to talk about). For example:
- “Even though this has been hard for me to hear, I’m glad you shared. I have a few questions. Do you want me to ask now or later?”
- You can do the same thing before offering advice. If they do ask for a break, make sure to set a specific time to come back to the discussion so you can share what is on your mind too.
- Choose your language carefully around follow-up questions. Notice how you ask questions. Asking “why” versus “what” questions can make others feel defensive.
- SAY THIS: "What made you do that?" This helps you sound curious.
- NOT THAT: "Why did you do that?" This can sound judgmental.
Remind yourself that the goal is to understand your child better and learn how to best support them moving forward. You cannot change the past, so try not to focus your questions too much on things that can no longer change.
Remember, these skills take practice, and it helps to build a daily habit over time. For more prompts, download How to Problem Solve Tip Sheet (available in English and Spanish). Tips are also available by video: Starting the Conversation.
- Ask for their ideas first. Before jumping in with your questions and advice, ask them to problem solve. Ask questions like:
Talking to Kids About Social Media
One of the best ways to reduce the risks kids face online and through social media is a strong relationship with you.
When you build trust and keep conversations open, you can work in partnership with your child to help them get the benefits of connecting online, while also improving their digital literacy and safety.
Exploring Social Media Platforms
What’s the best way to learn about kids and social media?
Ask a kid! Kids are experts when it comes to navigating the newest social media platforms and trends. Let them serve as your guide.
Keep enthusiasm and curiosity at the center. Social media isn’t always good or always bad for mental health. You’ll first need to gather information about how your kids are using it in their lives and it may be different for each kid. Set aside judgement and prepare to manage any initial reactions you might have.
Sit and WatchNext, ask to sit alongside them as they spend time on their preferred social media platforms. It may feel awkward, and you might not get the lingo just right. That’s OK – it’s all part of learning.
- Ask them to show you their favorite video, channel or online influencer.
- Ask about the funniest memes going around their friend group.
- See if they’ll share the most inspiring thing they saw online (or the silliest, or the scariest).
Lead with open-ended questions
Your goal is to start a conversation in a way that feels comfortable and safe. Be open-minded and curious when you ask things like, “Who do you follow and why? How do you feel when people like (or don’t like) your posts?”
Share what you’ve heard
Use a trend or risk you’ve heard about to start the conversation.
“Have you heard about that new TikTok school prank?”
“I read an article about catfishing – do you know anyone that’s happened to?”
“I’m thinking about taking a social media diet – what do you think about that?”
Respond to encourage more sharing
Think ahead about how you’ll react if your child says something that worries you. The best approach is to respond neutrally, to encourage your child to keep talking. You want them to feel they can share without being judged or overwhelmed. And notice your body language – it should communicate openness too.
Spend more time listening than asking questions. Then try saying back what you heard. And thank them for sharing with you!
“Wow, I didn’t realize how much you were able to keep in touch with your friends even if you don’t have classes together. I hear you saying that is really important. Thank you for letting me know.”
Make these conversations part of your normal routine - your child will be more likely to reach out to you if something concerning happens on social media.
You can also refer to our Social Media Agreement to set guidelines for acceptable social media practices.
Mental Wellness Tools and Resources
When you suspect a child may be suffering or struggling, one of the first steps in helping them recover should involve a visit to their pediatrician. Pediatricians specialize in identifying certain signs and signals and are trained to communicate with children of all ages. They can make referrals to specialists, prescribe medication and recommend remedies to ease symptoms until further treatment is available.
In addition, the tools and resources shared below help start conversations and get kids talking about their anxieties, fears and struggles.
Downloadable On Our Sleeves Resources
- Video: The 3 Rs of Forming Healthy Habits
- Gratitude Jar (available in English and Spanish)
- Gratitude Chart (available in English and Spanish)
- Anxiety Activity (available in English and Spanish)
Middle School Students
High School Students
- Video: 10 Strategies for Better Mental Health
- Emotion Conversation Cards
- Self-Care Activity (available in English and Spanish)
Parents & Educators
- Video: Responding to Unwanted Behaviors
- Educator Tips
- Behavior Tracker
- Rewarding Positive Behavior (available in English and Spanish)
Online BayCare resources
- Community Health Services
- Crisis Services
- Mental Health Services
- Navigating Behavioral Health Care
- Services Specifically for Children
Learn more about BayCare Behavioral Health services.
Additional Community Resources (organizations that focus on behavioral health for immediate/scheduled care)
- Let’s Talk (Tampa Bay Thrives)
- Personal Enrichment through Mental Health Services (PEMHS)
- Safe and Sound (MHFA training)
- ASAP (Alliance for Substance Abuse & Prevention)
- COVE Behavioral Health
- Peace River Center
- Find Help Throughout the Nation
In addition to the resources featured on this page, you will find many more helpful tools ready to view or download at OnOurSleeves.org.
Periodically, we will rotate content in this section to feature a new topic. Check back regularly to learn more about topics such as SMART Mental Wellness goals, Stress and Kids, Suicide Prevention and more.
Feature Topic: Helping Kids Get to Sleep
There is one simple way to help children maintain their mental health: make sure they get enough sleep.
When your child is well-rested, they’re more likely to maintain a healthy weight and a positive outlook on life, and they’re less likely to succumb to colds or have trouble concentrating at school.
Kids don’t always want to go to sleep on time, which can make bedtime a challenge for parents. If you’re seeking strategies to help your child get more shut-eye or create an effective bedtime routine, On Our Sleeves has plenty of advice.
Our behavioral health experts have compiled helpful guidelines to streamline bedtime routines. We share the basics of good sleep hygiene, plus other creative ideas that should help your child nod off at the end of the day and wake up feeling refreshed.
St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Foundation actively supports clinical excellence and innovation in caring for children.