Children’s Mental Health: Signs your child is struggling & what to do about it
Updated: Feb 12, 2022
This week is Children’s Mental Health week, and with 1 in 6 children aged 5 -16 showing symptoms of a probable mental health problem, it’s a worrying time for parents too.
So, what are the signs that suggest your child might be struggling?
Signs my child might be struggling
Children and teenagers are often not that great at actually telling us that something is wrong, and they often don’t have the language either. As a result, the first signs to keep an eye out for are changes in their behaviour. Often either becoming very withdrawn, or acting out and getting into trouble a lot, can suggest that there is something going on for them. As can changes in sleep, appetite, and starting to avoid things they used to enjoy.
How can I best support my child?
I know it can feel really overwhelming, and anxiety provoking to think that our kids are struggling. All we want is for them to be happy. We see so many dramatic headlines, and our own thought processes can often lead to us jumping to the worst possible conclusion.
Create a safe space for them to open up
So, my first piece of advice is to talk to them and ask them what’s going on. Try to do it in a gentle way. I know the urge to launch a full-on enquiry can be strong, but the more pressure you put on them to give an answer, the more likely they are to withdraw further.
Taking the opportunity to talk when you are walking somewhere or in the car, can be a good place to start. These are situations that don’t tend to require a lot of eye contact, and for many children, teenagers in particular, this can help them to open up, as well as feel less put on the spot. Alternatively, Young Minds have a lovely list of different activities that you can do together that can help open the conversation up https://www.youngminds.org.uk/parent/starting-a-conversation-with-your-child/.
Notice, get curious & listen
Try starting the conversation with noticing that there has been a change in them and sharing your concerns. If they are struggling to give an answer, it’s ok to offer suggestions as to what you might think might be up. Sometimes it can be hard for our kids to put into words what is going on. However, it’s important to remain curious and to listen. When we come in with our own views and judgments, they will likely shut the conversation down pretty quickly.
Acknowledge & validate feelings
Sometimes the issue will be something easily solved. However, it is so important to acknowledge and validate those big feelings that they have been holding on to.
Explore solutions together
Just like we often just want someone to listen to us, rather than fix us, the same can be said for our children. Again, it’s ok to ask them what they would like us to do, and try and come up with a plan together.
Reach out for support if needed
Sometimes the issue might be something a bit more serious that needs more of an intervention. If you are concerned that your child is presenting with a mental health problem, you can talk to your child’s school, as they may have similar concerns, or alternatively they may not be aware at all.
Schools often have small mental health teams linked in with them who can offer help, depending on the severity of the difficulty. They can also offer practical support, such as timetable changes, making teachers aware that homework might need to be dropped for a bit, a quiet room for when things might be overwhelming etc. They can also make an onwards referral to CAMHS if they feel that the level of support needed is outside of their remit.
Additionally, you can go to your GP, and seek a referral to CAMHS. This is particularly important if your child is self-harming, experiencing suicidal ideation, and/or struggling with their eating.
If you are worried that your child is at imminent serious risk of harm to themselves, then please take them to A&E.
Remember to check in and support yourself too
When we have a child who is unwell, it can be incredibly difficult and demanding for us as parents, not to mention incredibly frightening. Therefore, it is so important to try and seek the support that you need too. Whether that be a partner/parent or friend who can help with childcare so that you can get a break, or your own professional help.
When our child is struggling, we can often end up neglecting ourselves, because we don’t feel like we have the time, and we feel we are needed elsewhere. However, in reality it is even more important for us to look after our own wellbeing during this time. You can’t look after your child unless you look after yourself. The greater the demands they place on you, the more important this is.
Other Helpful tools
If you have Netflix, Headspace have a series which is a really lovely explanation on how mindfulness works with meditations weaved in. It’s great for kids and parents alike!
You’ll also find some lovely simple self-care exercises on the Nourish app such as breathing exercises and yoga nidra that you can share with your kids.
The NHS website has a helpful guide to navigating children’s mental health services
About the author
Chloe Bedford is a HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist with over a decade's experience in working with children, adolescents and their families. Chloe recently left the NHS to set up in private practice largely working online. You can find Chloe at www.marathonpsychology.com and @drchoebedford on Instagram sharing tips and information.
Chloe is also a very enthusiastic runner and can be found on Instagram @the.running.psychologist where she runs a series of Tuesday evening lives discussing running, motherhood and mental health with different professionals.