With 1 in 6 children aged 5-16 identified as having a probable mental health condition, being able to talk to your child about their mental health is really important. However, talking about mental health can be hard whatever your age. This blog will give you some tips on how to start the conversation.
How do I know if my child is struggling with their mental health
It can be really difficult to know if your child is struggling with their mental health. There are many stressful things that happen in childhood such as moving schools and sitting exams. It is normal to feel stress and anxiety around such events. It is also common for teenagers to be drawn more to spending time with friends and be less open about their feelings with family.
However, if you notice changes to your child’s sleep, eating habits and/or motivation, these can be signs of a mental health issue. Other signs to look for are: not enjoying things they used to, often being tearful and withdrawing from socialising with anyone.
5 tips on how to talk to your child about their mental health:
1. Check in with them regularly
For adults and children alike, it can be difficult to talk about our feelings. By regularly checking in how your child is, although they may not feel able to talk immediately, you are providing an opportunity for them to do so when they are ready. If you are not sure how to start a conversation, there are some ideas here from Young Minds. It can also help to have a conversation when going for a walk or driving. Being side by side and not having to make eye contact can reduce the pressure.
2. Accept if they don’t want to talk to you
As important as providing opportunities to talk is accepting if they are not willing or able to talk to you. It may help to offer other methods of communication like writing things down or texting. You can also let them know it is OK if they want to talk to someone else. There may be a trusted adult you could suggest. Alternatively, there are free helplines such as Childline who offer support by 1:2:1 chat, email or phone.
3. Validate their feelings
As an adult you may see some issues as more serious than others. For example, finding out your child is ‘only’ upset about falling out with a friend may feel like a relief. However, your child’s feelings are real and valid. It is important to acknowledge how they are feeling and that it is OK for them to feel that way.
4. Be a role model
Whilst you may not tell your child everything you are feeling, it can be really helpful for them to see you express and process your own emotions. This shows your child that it is OK to have emotions and how to cope with them. For example, you might share you have had a stressful day at work so you are going for a run. Or if there has been a loss in the family, letting your child know you are sad and asking how they are feeling can help them to open up and normalise their feelings.
5. Ask what support they would like
If your child has opened up about an issue, ask them what you can do to support them. It can be easy to go into problem-solving mode and tell them what to do, but sometimes they may just want someone to listen. Other times they may ask you for suggestions or to take action such as talking to school. By empowering them to decide what would be helpful, you are helping them be better able to support themselves in the future.
With more and more young people struggling with their mental health, being able to have a conversation with your child about theirs is really valuable. It can be difficult to spot the signs, so talking about mental health whether or not you think they are struggling can help. Support is available from your GP, your child’s school, charities such as Childline or private counselling. If your child is over 16 and you are interested in finding out more about how counselling can help, please get in touch: