1-7th February is Children’s mental health week.Zoe Richardson | Published: 19th January 2021
This week gives us the chance to put children’s mental health in the spotlight. Mental health, much like our physical health, fluctuates over the course of any individual’s lifetime. Like our bodies, our minds grow and change rapidly throughout childhood and adolescence, presenting unique challenges.
2020 presented many challenges for our children. Schools have been closed. Young people have been isolated from friends, relatives, teachers and the vital support networks they need to flourish. You may be wondering, how can I, as a parent, best support my child?
What can I watch out for?
• Withdrawal – from school, social interactions, or hobbies which they were previously interested in
• Changes in mood such as new/persistent feelings of anger, tearfulness, hopelessness or emptiness
• Sleeping or eating more or less than usual
• Outbursts, tantrums or meltdowns
• Thoughts of self-harm/self-harming
• Expression of suicidal thoughts or plans to end their life
How can I help?
It is important to remember that change and uncertainty often lead to distress. Distress provokes emotions and reactions. This is a very normal response and doesn’t necessarily mean that your child has or will develop a mental health condition.
It is easy to rush in and attempt to “fix the problem”. Do you often just listen? Giving your child space and time to talk and be heard can be a powerful and validating experience.
• Encourage healthy routine and connections
Habits and routine are important for maintaining wellbeing and decreasing stress levels. Connection to others leads to increased happiness and better health.
• Recognise their strengths
Children with high self-esteem have greater confidence, feel proud and believe in themselves. Self-esteem can grow when a child feels accepted, loved and safe.
• Reassure them
Both good and bad feelings will pass. Help your child feel secure by explaining that negative experiences and emotions can provide opportunities to grow, and that negative feelings don’t last forever.
• Seek help
If you have persisting concerns about your child’s mental health, speak to their GP, school or Health Visitor. There are lots of fantastic local organisations doing great work to support parents and children. Seeking support is a positive action and does not make you weak or a bad parent.
What about me?
• Keep yourself well
You cannot pour from an empty cup. Engaging in self-care and healthy coping strategies can improve wellbeing and reduce stress. This will better equip you to respond to your child’s mental health needs. Don’t feel guilty for resting and taking part in activities you enjoy.
• Lean on others
Who can you go to for support? Who do you go to for support? Never be afraid to reach out when you are struggling. Talk to someone within your network or a helpline.
• Don’t overlook or minimise your successes
It is common to beat ourselves up for the things we couldn’t do. Instead, focus on the positive things you have achieved, the resilience you have built and your worth as a human being.
• Try not to take it personally if your child pushes boundaries or challenges you
These behaviours are a necessary part of the journey for children to gain independence and grow up.
Young Persons Advisory Service offers a range of mental health and emotional well-being therapeutic services for children, young people and families in Liverpool. https://ypas.org.uk
Kooth is an online mental wellbeing community for children and young people, featuring online counsellors delivering pre-booked or drop-in sessions. https://www.kooth.com
YoungMinds has a wealth of information regarding the mental health of young people on their website. They also have a helpline for parents accessible via phone, webchat or email. https://youngminds.org.uk/
PAPYRUS supports young adults under 35 who feel suicidal. They also offer Hopeline, a support and advice line for anyone concerned a young person could be thinking of suicide. http://www.papyrus.org.uk.
Written by Zoe Richardson, Project Lead, Open Door Charity. Open Door Charity provides free, immediate and innovative therapeutic support for young people on Merseyside. https://www.opendoorcharity.com