Children and Mental Health

Some things to consider if you think your child might be struggling with their mental health…

  1. Is your child’s behaviour age-appropriate? Has it changed recently? What about the basics: eating, sleeping, communication? Every child is unique; so comparisons can often be unhelpful.  However, there’s a difference between a 2 year-old having a melt-down and a 10 year-old doing the same thing. Listen to your guts – you know what’s normal for them and what feels wrong.
  2. Keep a diary of your concerns – this will  be helpful if you seek professional support. Describe what happens, when, for how long, and what impact it has on the family. Think about any possible triggers: has your child had difficulties at school or with friends? Have they experienced any trauma or abuse? Have there been any big family issues, like bereavement?
  3. If you go to the GP, ask for one who specialises in mental health.  If you don’t feel they are taking you seriously, ask to see someone else or even change practice. The earlier you seek help, the easier it is to deal with issues such as anxiety or depression – and to prevent harmful coping strategies.
  4. If your child is referred through the NHS, it will most likely be to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). These are local teams of nurses, therapists, pyschologists, support workers and social workers. Before your first meeting, think about what you and your child would like to change and go prepared with any questions you might have, for example:
    • are there waiting lists for treatment? what help is available now?
    • is this treatment commonly used for children of the same age? Will it have any side-effects?
    • how long will treatment last; and what do you hope to achieve?
    • what do we do if the treatment doesn’t work?
    • who can I contact in an emergency/is there a 24 hour phone number?
    • will my GP still be involved in my child’s care?
    • if talking therapies are offered, how long will they be for?
    • what can I do to support my child and keep them safe at home?
  5. Work in partnership with your child’s school.   As well as giving you a fuller picture, they can sometimes refer your child for more care. Other organisations such as Young Minds are also helpful, (including a parent helpline: 0808 8025544) and guide to support services.
  6. Keep talking to your child. They will pick up on your cues, so let them know it’s okay to be upset, and that you are working together on solutions.  Remind them that they’re not alone, that you love them and support them and that there are ways forward. Factor in downtime together too; for example over dinner or a walk or film. Encourage them for all the things they’re doing well and (if this doesn’t stress them out), give them lots of hugs and reassurance.
  7. Be appropriately honest.   If you’re grumpy with your child or say something unkind, say sorry and explain why it happened.  It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to sometimes feel sad or upset. Notice your child’s language about themselves and others.  If this is negative, work with them to think differently, (and do it yourself!)
  8. Keep talking to God.
  9. Keep talking to your partner/other family members.  Try to do this without the child there; and work out a united plan.  Stick to it and try to support one another.
  10. Keep talking to others. and don’t be afraid to ask for practical help – for example, babysitting, or a cooked meal or a cuppa, so you can let off steam. Even an hour out can make a world of difference.
  11. Keep talking to yourself. Stay calm; even though you may be feeling scared and distressed. Remember that you’re the grown-up here and (see 8 and 9) you’re not alone.
  12. Give your child and yourself time. Sometimes this behaviour is a phase and they will grow out of it. Even if they don’t, there are lots of ways forward.


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