How to Support Your Child’s Mental Health
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
At Ultimate Resilience our mission is all about improving mental health and wellbeing, particularly in the workplace. Since many of our followers are also parents, we wanted to offer a few tips on how to support your child’s mental health.
Recognising when your child is struggling
It can be difficult to spot when your child is struggling as they may not have the words to express their difficulties. Teenagers in particular are more likely to keep their feelings to themselves. Instead, signs of depression or anxiety are often expressed through changes in behaviour. This can include ‘acting out’ (getting into fights or taking drugs), being more emotional than usual or becoming withdrawn.
Some forms of stress or anxiety are natural responses to the common challenges of life. Taking exams, changing schools or the loss of a pet, for example, can lead to a period of low mood or anxiety. However, some children experience more persistent anxiety or depression which affects how they feel and behave over the longer term.
It can help to think about what’s normal for your child and notice if there are signs that they’ve been behaving differently recently.
Signs of depression in children and teenagers can include:
persistent low-mood or reduced motivation/energy
not enjoying their usual interests or hobbies
becoming withdrawn and spending less time with friends and family
experiencing low self-esteem or expressing negative thoughts about themselves (e.g “I’m worthless”)
being more tearful or upset than usual
changes in eating or sleeping habits
Signs of anxiety in children and teenagers can include:
becoming socially withdrawn and avoiding spending times with friends or family
seeming nervous or ‘on edge’ a lot of the time
expressing anxious or catastrophic thoughts (e.g. worries about failure or rejection)
suffering panic attacks
being more tearful, upset or angry than usual
trouble sleeping and changes in eating habits
How to support your child’s mental health
Your child or young person may find it hard to understand how they are feeling, to recognise that they may be struggling or even to ask for help.
They may feel nobody will understand, that there is something wrong with them or fear being judged if they admit to the difficulties they are having.
An important starting point is to notice any changes that indicate your child is struggling. This might seem obvious but when we are caught up in the pressures of day-to-day life, it can be easy to overlook changes in our children.
A key to supporting your child is to let them know you have noticed they are not their normal selves. Ask whether anything is troubling them. Acknowledge that things are hard for them and offer reassurance. Try not to judge or criticise them for how they are feeling or behaving.
They may not want to talk about how they are feeling straight away. Be patient, let them know you are there for them. When you are worried it is likely to feel urgent to you, so you may try to make them talk. But try not to force them as this could undermine their trust and belief that you want to support them. Allowing them space, taking time, checking in and being available will be more likely to help them open up when they are ready.
Let your child know you’re there for them and are on their side. Sometimes our children feel the need to protect us from how they are feeling and this makes it hard for them to be honest with us. Try to normalise how they are feeling, use empathy and let them know it’s ok to be honest about how they feel.
If they find it difficult to open up to you, try talking via text message or on the phone. When they share difficult feelings and experiences, let them know you love and care about them.
Being patient and staying calm can be hard when you are worried or your child’s behaviour upsets you. Using a technique such as slow rhythmic breathing will help to calm your stress response.
Think of things you can do with your child that will help them to feel calmer and closer to you. For example, you could try learning the slow rhythmic breathing exercises together, join a yoga class or do a mindfulness exercise together. Maybe go for a walk or do some cooking together. This can help to relax you both and will provide space for your child to talk.
If your child or young person is struggling to talk at home about how they are feeling encourage them to talk to their GP, someone they trust at school or Childline.
Take care of yourself
When we feel stressed with life it can be hard to focus on another person’s difficulties. Even when that person is our own child. This is adaptive as we have evolved to protect ourselves from situations that we find threatening.
Taking care of yourself will ensure that other stressors do not overwhelm you. You will feel calmer and better able to respond to the difficulties your child is having.
Try to manage your own stress at work and at home by:
Remembering to take regular breaks
Setting yourself reasonable targets
Making time to see friends and family and access support for yourself
Managing symptoms of stress with slow rhythmic breathing and mindfulness
Noticing negative thoughts and finding alternative ways to think about the situation.
Remember that it is normal for us all to experience emotional struggles on occasion. In most cases, these will pass with time and the support of loved ones.
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