This week is Children’s Mental Health Week. It’s run by children’s charity Place2Be, and is designed to shine a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health.
This year’s theme is ‘Let’s Connect’.
Feeling connected to other people is vital for our wellbeing, and when that doesn’t happen, we can sometimes feel isolated and lonely, which can have a negative impact on our mental health.
We’ve put together this special edition of our newsletter to share some useful information and resources to encourage connections with others in healthy, rewarding and meaningful ways and to help support children and young people’s mental health.
What can I do as a parent or carer?
Moments of connection are really important in the relationships that children have with their parents or carers, and it doesn’t need to be difficult.
Little things, like when you pick them up from school or come in from work, are important. Try to give them your full attention and see if this helps you feel better connected.
With an older child, you may find times such as car journeys a good time to talk, or to reconnect by playing music that you both like.
Family life can become busy and stressful, so it’s important to find some time where you all connect together. This could include simple things like cooking, watching a film, playing a game or going to the park.
As adults we can sometimes be dismissive of the things that our children and teenagers are interested in, such as their music, fashion and what they watch. But you may feel better connected if you appreciate the important things in their world. This can open up conversations about other things in their lives that matter to them.
Arguments and disagreements are bound to happen in families, and it is important that children learn how to disagree in appropriate ways – how to say sorry, for example, when they have done something wrong. They will learn a lot about how to do these things from you, so try to model the behaviour you want to see in your children.
Visit Place2Be’s Parenting Smart website for more practical tips from child mental health experts to support children’s wellbeing and behaviour.
Why are friendships important for my child?
A lack of meaningful connection can cause loneliness and anxiety.
Friends have a big impact on a child or young people’s mental health and wellbeing, so it is important they learn how to establish healthy relationships, which can allow them to support one another.
It can be a tricky topic to explain, so allowing your children to see and experience positive connections and modelling the sort of friendships you want them to have is vital. This could include seeing you speak kindly to your friends, treating people with respect and giving your time to the people you care about.
If your child is shy or lacks confidence, it can feel more difficult for them to make and keep friends. Give your child lots of opportunities to connect and communicate with you in whatever ways you feel comfortable for them. Practising with you will give them more confidence to connect with others.
Acknowledge that friendships are complex and can be difficult to navigate, and reassure them that it’s natural for friends to change over time. It’s normal to fall out sometimes, so talk to them about how to re-connect with friends after arguments including what they can do to help repair relationships. Let your child know that being friends doesn’t always mean agreeing or getting along with others all the time.
Friendship groups become increasingly important to children as they become teenagers and it helps them discover and form their own identities, develop autonomy and gain independence. Be open to hearing about their friendships and try to listen without judgement.
How do I tell if my child is having a tough time?
It’s normal for children and young people to experience worry, stress or anxiety at certain points in their lives, and there can be many reasons for these feelings.
Anxiety is one of the most common psychological conditions among children and young people, yet the signs of anxiety are not always obvious for parents to spot.
Look out for:
- sleep problems – having difficulty nodding off, bad dreams and wetting the bed are signs of potential anxiety
- nervousness – if your child seems less able to cope and more nervous than usual, it may be caused by underlying anxiety
- physical problems – minor ailments such as tummy trouble or feeling faint may be an indication that there’s an bigger issue
- becoming more clingy – is your child becoming more tearful or not wanting to let you go? This is often a sign of separation anxiety, which is a common form of anxiety in children under 12 years old
- change in eating habits – problems with food can begin as a coping strategy when young people are anxious, and they may lose their appetite or perhaps start comfort eating when they’re not hungry
- losing their temper – outbursts may not just be a the result of raging hormones. They could be another sign of anxiety
- lack of concentration – if you notice that your child is struggling to focus on a given task, it could mean they’re stressed about something
- reduced confidence – if you notice your child is becoming withdrawn or they seem to lack confidence or get easily upset, it might be an indicator that they need some help
If your child’s anxiety is severe, persists and interferes with their everyday life, it’s a good idea to get some help. A visit to a GP is a good place to start and it may help to talk to their school as well.
The YoungMinds website has lots of useful information about ways you can support your child if they are struggling with worry or anxiety and places you can get help. There’s also a free parent helpline on 0808 802 5544, from Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm.
How can I help support my child’s mental health?
One of the most important things you can do to help is let your child know it’s OK to talk about their mental health.
Talking to your child about how they’re feeling can be tough, especially if you’re concerned that they’re having a hard time. You might feel like you don’t know what to say or when a good time to talk is, or you might feel worried about how your child will react.
It doesn’t matter what topic the conversation starts with – it’s about the opportunity it gives you to talk about feelings and provide comfort.
Try taking 20 minutes to do an activity you both enjoy, such as kicking a football around or doing some drawing, as it can create a relaxed space for getting the conversation started.
If they do want to talk, listen to them in a non-judgemental way about how they’re feeling. Remind them that it’s OK to feel scared or worried and try to reassure them. Remember, you don’t need to know all the answers, but talking things through can help.
If they don’t want to talk right now, reassure them that they can talk to you at any time. You could also see whether other forms of communication like writing a letter or texting would make it easier for your child to let you know what’s going on. Remember, you know your child best, and you can tell when it isn’t the right time or they aren’t in the mood to talk.
What can I do if my child is struggling?
If your child tells that you they’re struggling, it’s important to make sure they feel seen and heard. If you’re worried about something that’s come up in conversation, be honest and clear about how you see things, and how you want to support them.
When responding, it helps to:
- validate their feelings. You could say ‘it’s really understandable that you’re feeling…’ to let them know that their feelings are okay
- thank them for sharing what’s going on, and be encouraging about the way they’ve opened up
- let them know that you love them, that you’re there for them, that they can talk to you whenever they need to, and that you can help them get support if they need it
- ask them if there’s anything you could do that they would find particularly helpful
- spend time together thinking about what is making them feel this way. It could be something at home or school, a relationship with a friend or family member or something else
- let your child know about the helplines, textlines and online chat services that are available. Young people can find it difficult to talk and worry about upsetting their parents, so reassure them that it’s okay to open up to other people
- remind your child that this is temporary. Reassure them that things can change and they can feel better
- avoid conversations at the height of distress. It’s important to be there for them, but it can be more helpful to talk about the causes when things are feeling calmer
How do I get help for my child?
If your child is struggling with their mental health and they need some help, you may be feeling really worried. Remember that you and your child are not alone.
If your child is experiencing thoughts, feelings or behaviours that are affecting their daily life, speaking to a GP is a good first step to finding the help they need. They can explore what’s going on for your child, and suggest things that might help. They can also make referrals to specialist NHS and other local services.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is the NHS service for children and young people who may be experiencing problems with their emotional or psychological wellbeing. Through CAMHS, your child can access specialist support and treatment such as counselling and therapy. You can ask a GP or other health professional to refer your child to CAMHS, or you can self-refer your child into this service.
Your child may be able to access free or low-cost counselling through a local organisation, even if they have not been referred by a GP or are not being treated by CAMHS. There are also private counsellors and therapists working all over the country if this is an affordable option for you.
As you find your way around local services, it might also help to talk to other parents who have been through this, or to speak to any friends or family who might be able to advise you about where to get started.
Useful helplines and websites
Is aimed at secondary school-age young people, and their parents.
Provides free, safe, anonymous online support for young people – counselling, messaging, personal stories
Open 24/7 via 0800 11 11
If you’re under 19 years old, you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
There’s also online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.
Has a range of help and advice, including advice for young people about how they can look after their own mental health.
Parents and carers of children and young people up to the age of 25 years old can use the parent helpline and webchat service for detailed advice, emotional support and signposting Monday to Friday, 9:30am until 4:00pm. There is an email service outside of these hours.
Offers online information as well as helpline support to under 25 year olds about anything that’s troubling them. Email support is available via their online contact form, as well as free 1-2-1 webchat service and telephone helpline available via 0808 808 4994 from 4pm until 11pm seven days a week.
Whatever you’re going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. Please be aware that this is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention. Call 116123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org any time of the day or night.
Provides mental health and wellbeing support for children and young people in Devon, Plymouth or Torbay aged 11 to 25 years old.
Parent’s and carers or professionals can also get advice on how to best support a young person
Download their FREE Wellbeing Toolkit for tips and techniques on how to look after and improve your Wellbeing, and maintain positive mental health.
Operates in schools across the county, delivering health advice and support to school-aged children and young people. The ChatHealth text line allows young people aged 11 to 19 years old a place to talk completely confidentially with a school nurse about any worries or concerns they may have. Text 07520631722.
A charity that promotes positive mental health for teenagers and encourages them to build resilience and manage difficult emotions with online resources.
Provides free, confidential, 24/7 text message support for anyone struggling to cope. They can help with issues including suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, abuse, self-harm, relationship problems and bullying. Text “Shout” to 85258 to speak to a trained volunteer who will listen and work with you to solve problems.
The website lots of useful information about mental health and self-care for young people, including videos on social media, dealing with change and the worry tree.