Speaking With Parents

It’s much more than just the specific sport; it’s about reinforcing positive attitude and lessons for life.

Stigma and Discrimination:
Negative Attitudes about Mental Illness

People often feel ashamed, guilty or embarrassed about having a mental health problem (or having a child with a mental health problem). People may believe that the illness is a sign of weakness or that they really have no good reason to feel the way they do. Parents may feel guilty, that they’ve done something to cause a child’s mental illness. And others may blame or judge people who have a mental health problem. This kind of ‘stigma’ makes things even more difficult for children, youth and families coping with mental health problems. And its one reason why people don’t get the help they need.

Changing attitudes about mental illness
You can help to change attitudes about mental illness by:

  • Encouraging parents to try and think about mental illness and physical illness in the same way.
  • Ask them, “Would you take your child to the doctor if she had stomach pain?” “Would you feel guilty if your child was being treated for cancer?” “If a friend’s child had diabetes, would I think the parents caused it?”
  • Encouraging parents to talk openly about any of their own personal experiences with mental illnesses.
  • Encourage parents to share things that helped and ways to cope. But when talking about their own experiences, to emphasize the healthy message that it is good to get help for problems, instead of keeping it all inside.
  • Encourage parents to go along to appointments. Even if one parent is going along, offer to come too.
  • Encourage parents to be open to the treatments recommended by the health professionals, even if these treatments for the parents were not helpful for them personally.

For example, they may have tried counselling and found it didn’t help, but this doesn’t mean that it won’t help their child.

Parents might not agree with medication treatment. Encourage them to accept that medication is sometimes needed. Medication is needed for some physical health problems as well as some mental health problems. There is no need to feel badly about this fact. Ask them if they would feel badly if their child needed insulin for diabetes? It is okay for parents to disagree with their child’s doctor or care provider. If they have questions or concerns about their child’s treatment plan, suggest they ask to speak privately with their doctor or care provider (without their child or teen present).


As a coach, you often give parents feedback about their athlete’s strengths, weaknesses and goal development this same framework can be used to talk about mental health concerns you have about
a youth.

You could say something like this: I’ve noticed that Johnny is having a hard time settling into practice. He is easily distracted and often has difficulty focusing. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed this at home. I’m wondering if this is something we can monitor more closely together to better understand what is going on?

I’ve noticed that Jenny is experiencing a lot of frustration when she’s not getting a particular skill right. She spends a lot of time trying to avoid practicing, and seems to be losing interest. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed this at home. I’m worried about Jenny, and wondered if she had mentioned anything to you?

Matt always shows up on time and is prepared, but he’s often the last one out on the ice. What do you suppose is getting in the way of this? Can we have a plan that will help Matt be more organized and focused? What works for you at home, and maybe I can try at practice?

What if Parents Do Not Appear Receptive?

At times, despite all of your sensitive feedback, parents may be unwilling or unable to accept feedback, and may react negatively. Following these steps can help to diffuse an angry parent, and help them be more open to your questions/feedback.


Find some truth in what they are saying, this does not mean you agree with their point of view. For example an angry parent approaches you because they don’t think their child had enough ice time, and you don’t know how to coach etc. You could say something like, I can see why you might think I’m a lousy coach, or your right ice time looked a little different tonight etc. The goal is to diffuse them by finding some truth, even if you don’t believe it.

Validate their Feelings

You could say something like, I would be really frustrated too if I felt my child should have played more. It sucks to see your kid sitting on the bench.


You could say something like; every parent wants to see their child on the ice.

Gentle Probing/Suggestions

Now that you have diffused the angry parent, you can begin to ask some questions. Have you noticed…..Have you thought about…..Is there anything that has changed that I could support him with? Maybe it’s worth looking into what supports there are in the community? The idea is to plant seeds for parents to consider assessment in the future if that may be a need, and may even trigger them to ask, “What can we do?”

Expand the Reach is a web based resource for coaches, athletes of all levels, parents and community organizations to support Mental Wellness, and early intervention for better performance in sport & life. 

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