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How to ask your child RUOK

What’s going on? How are you feeling? RUOK? As parents, it can be difficult to know how to encourage a child to express their feelings. But it’s vital that we do. Here are some tips on what to do to help your child to open up.

The mental health of our children is always a parent’s priority. As RUOK Day approaches it’s even more front of mind. Research shows that nearly half of Australians aged 16 to 85 have experienced a mental disorder during their lifetime while 26 percent of 15 to 24-year-olds had experienced symptoms of a mental disorder in the 12 months prior to the survey.

As mental health becomes an increasing concern in Australia, there’s a greater need for mental health awareness and ‘RUOK’ conversations. Helping our children open up by learning how to encourage a child to express their feelings, is a huge part of that process.

How to encourage a child to express their feelings

As parents, we may have spent many years learning about and becoming familiar with our own mental health. Our children are facing their own mental health challenges each day as they navigate our uncertain world. For those of us with children aged 15 to 24 this is particularly concerning, as the leading cause of death for this age group is suicide. However, they often struggle to express those feelings to their parents, even when those parents are loving and supportive.


This year RUOK Day is on 8 September 2022. There are fantastic resources on the RUOK website to support conversations that can change your child’s life. These conversations can be with your own child. The four recommended steps are:

  1. Ask
  2. Listen
  3. Encourage Action
  4. Check In

But what does this look like? How can you encourage your child to express their feelings? And are you prepared if the answer to RUOK is ‘no’?


The message this year for RUOK Day is Ask R U OK?, no qualifications needed. As your child’s parent, you are fully qualified to ask them if they are OK, and to encourage them to express their feelings. It’s important to support your child to be honest in expressing their feelings without fear of judgement or upset on your part.

So make sure you’re in the right headspace to ask, and that you choose a time free from other commitments. You should both be relaxed and comfortable and prepared for a longer conversation if the answer to RUOK is ‘no’ or even ‘I don’t know’. Let them know that you love them and that you’re only there to help, not to judge.


Listening can be one of the most challenging things to do, regardless of the conversation. Regardless of your child’s age, the same few things are important to ensure you are present and engaged in the conversation. We suggest:

  • Making sure your child knows they have your full attention.
  • Stopping all other activities so you are fully present and not distracted.
  • Reflecting on what your child is saying and taking the time to process it.
  • Repeating back what your child is saying, to make sure you have heard and understood.

For teens, our best talking time can often be while driving. Not making eye contact can actually be helpful while having quite serious conversations. But with significant conversations about our child’s mental health, it’s important that there are no other distractions. You don’t need to stare into each other’s eyes while talking, but you do need to make it clear that you are present and engaged.

Encourage Action

If your child lets you know that they are not OK, it’s important that you are open to the next step. Ask your child what they need from you, and how you can support them. Ask if they have a strategy to immediately get them through this difficult time, or if they need help with that.

If your child has been feeling really down for over two weeks, it may be time to seek support from a mental health professional. Encourage your child to talk to you about this and talk of the benefits of professional mental health support. Make the call as soon as you can, while continuing to encourage your child towards some kind of positive action.

This could be a gentle walk in the sun, or standing together to make biscuits or a cake, starting a puzzle or watching a movie together. We have a few more ideas here about helping kids to find joy in the day to day.

If you are concerned your child needs immediate professional support, we encourage you to contact Kids Helpline, Lifeline or Beyond Blue. And our own professional team is here to help when you need us.

Check in

If your mental health conversation has not raised immediate concerns for you, make a note to follow up. This is the ‘check in’ step. Ask them again if they’re OK in a couple of days, or a week. Let your child know you’re ready to talk at any time and are there for them, ready to support them however they need.

What should parents be watching for

Though we want to encourage our child to express their feelings, it’s also helpful to be on the lookout for signs that may indicate that your child is struggling with mental health challenges. Some of these may include:

  • Withdrawal from their usual activities and / or family life.
  • Lack of interest in events or activities they have previously shown interest in and been engaged by.
  • Heightened or unexpected reactions to criticism.
  • Outbursts of anger, judgement or tears, particularly where it’s difficult for you to understand the cause.
  • Change in demeanour, appearance, behaviour or friendships that is not otherwise explainable.

Trust Yourself

The most important thing to remember is that you are the parent, and if you have a feeling that something isn’t right, it’s more than likely the case. Trust yourself. Ask your child RUOK and make it a habit to have these conversations regularly.

Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.

If your child needs professional support for their mental health challenges, please call us on (07) 3857 0074 to book an appointment with one of our clinicians; or send us an Appointment Request via this website. We’ll contact you as soon as possible to book a suitable time for you.