Monday, 15 February 2021

Mental Health in Children – A Parent’s Guide

Mental health is a big topic these days. Long gone are the times when we were told to “just get on with it” and issues were left to fester and grow. But just because everyone is talking about mental health doesn’t mean, as parents, we all know what to do and how to help our kids.


If your child or anyone you know is in crisis or showing any signs of hurting themselves or others please contact your local mental health NHS line immediately.

Mental Health in Young People and Children

Just like adults, kids can suffer too. The pressures of being young are more intense than ever before and Covid-19 has certainly magnified many issues. There is lots of help online and sites like Hidden Strength provide content specifically for younger people. There are also lots of places for parents to find out more but as with all health searches online, be wary of some of the content. Try to find sites that work with professionals to offer advice and support.

Children and young people often show the signs of many of the mental health issues adults have, the reality is, most adult issues start from a young age anyway. So being aware and having an understanding of the mental well being of your children is really important.

It Starts at Home

While many problems can start at home so can so much in the way of positivity. Parents should aim to create a culture at home that allows openness and encourages kids to talk about feelings and understand the feelings of others. It’s never to early to start with this.  Talking to our kids about their feelings both positive and negative as well as sharing some of our own feelings can be very healthy. Allowing children time to be upset, finding out why, talking about being scared, or sad or angry really helps set them up for later life. It is useful to create an environment where it’s OK to struggle and learning to understand themselves. This isn’t to say you should sit a 5 year old down for an hour talking about how sad they are. But taking a couple of moments to chat can help in the short term but also create a longer term strategy too.

The Signs

It is really important for parents to understand some of the more common mental health challenges for younger people and see the signs. For many parents now their upbringing would have been very different. Perhaps as young boys they were told to “man up” and get on with it. Perhaps as younger girls they were told to stop eating or they will get fat. 30 years ago things were different. Parents now a days can be better and more understanding. Just as you would expect to know if your child was physically sick so too should you be able to see if they are having mental health issues.

Online, Phones and Games

There is no doubt phones, tablets, gaming and access to the internet play a part in the mental health issues of children and young people. From poor sleep patterns to online bullying, body shaming and just creating a skewed view of the world this kind of thing needs to be managed. It may not work out well just trying to ban phones and the like. The key is to communicate, find lines in the sand that the whole family can agree on. There is no point shouting at your 12 year old to get of her phone if you are answering your fifth WhatsApp message that minute. Try screen free times on weekends or walks and once again…talk. Discuss why it can be bad, talk about positives and negatives and lets your children tell you what they think.

Parental Influence

Just as parents can help build a culture of talking about feelings, being open and understanding they can also pass on their own unresolved issues too. It is critical that parents look at their own behaviour around food, relationships, cleaning, sexuality and so much more. A parent who exhibits obsessive behaviour is going to pass some of this on. It may not appear in the same way but over the years it will have an effect. For many parents, having kids is a good time to seek help for their own problems. Afterall, you wouldn’t expect to do no exercise, eat take aways every night and smoke but force your kids to eat fresh fruit and veg, exercise once a day etc and expect them to do it. Be aware of your behaviour and how it may affect your children, be open, talk about it and allow them to share how they feel too.

Mental Health is about being mentally healthy as much as it is about coping and working through serious issues. The more we know about it and embrace it as parents the better our kids will be able to cope with whatever life throws at them. 

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