Conversations That Matter: Practical Suggestions for Navigating & Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health & Well-being

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In the last three years, since the pandemic the likelihood of children and young people having a mental health problem has increased by 50% according to The Children’s Society -seeing an increase in anxiety, depression, social isolation, and feelings of hopelessness.

We still don’t know the exact number of children battling issues like anxiety and depression but 1 in 6 children aged 5-16 are likely to have a mental health problem.

As a parent you want to fix it all, but you can’t always do that quickly or easily.

Lots of parents blame themselves and feel guilty.

It’s also hard to handle well-meaning family members giving you their opinions and advice.

It’s exhausting trying to work out what to do.

It’s heartbreaking, distressing and enormously stressful & challenging, to see your child’s mental health suffering. You may feel helpless as you don’t know what to do, or where to turn for help.

It’s important to recognise that you are not alone and there are organisations & charities able to support, nurture and guide you as a family through the challenges of mental health.

Supporting your child who is struggling with mental health is a challenging and important responsibility and it’s vital to approach the situation with empathy, understanding, and patience and to look after your own wellbeing and mental health too – so you can cope with providing support and getting the right help for your child.

Here is some general advice if you find yourself in this situation:

Open Communication:

Create a safe space where your child feels comfortable expressing their feelings without judgment.

Encourage open communication by actively listening and validating their emotions.

Use language that shows empathy and understanding.

Educate Yourself:

Learn about your child’s specific mental health condition or challenges to gain a better understanding of what they’re going through.

Stay informed about available treatments and therapies.

Professional Help:

Consult with mental health professionals such as therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists.

Be involved in the therapeutic process and attend sessions with your child if appropriate.

Create a Routine:

Establish a consistent daily routine to provide stability and predictability.

Ensure your child gets enough sleep, eats well, and engages in regular physical activity.

Encourage Healthy Habits:

Promote activities that contribute to positive mental health, such as exercise, hobbies, and social interactions.

Limit screen time and encourage outdoor activities.

Build a Support Network:

Connect with other parents who may be going through similar experiences.

Seek support from family and friends to share the responsibilities of caregiving.

Reduce Stigma:

Foster an environment where mental health is discussed openly, reducing the stigma associated with it.

Encourage your child to express their feelings without fear of judgment.

Promote Self-Esteem:

Recognise and celebrate your child’s strengths and achievements.

Encourage a positive self-image and help them develop coping skills.

Be Patient:

Understand that progress may be slow, and that setbacks may well occur.

Celebrate small victories and consistently express your love and support.

Stay Involved in School:

Communicate with teachers and school staff to stay informed about your child’s academic and social experiences.

Work collaboratively with the school to create a supportive environment.

Monitor Warning Signs:

Be aware of signs of worsening mental health or potential crisis.

Have a crisis plan in place, including emergency contacts and resources.

Take Care of Yourself:

It’s essential to maintain your own physical and mental well-being.

Seek support for yourself, whether through friends, family, or a therapist.

Here are some suggestions that I hope you will find helpful at home.

Identify Triggers:

Work with your child to identify specific situations, events, or stressors that may trigger their mental health challenges. This awareness can help you find strategies to manage or avoid these triggers.

Develop Coping Strategies:

Collaborate with your child and their mental health professionals to develop coping strategies that work for them. This might include deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, or journaling.

Set Realistic Goals:

Help your child set achievable short-term goals. Success in reaching these goals, no matter how small, can boost their confidence and motivation.

Create a Safety Plan:

If your child is at risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, work with mental health professionals to create a safety plan. This plan should include specific steps to take during a crisis and emergency contact information.

Establish a Daily Check-In:

Schedule regular, informal check-ins with your child to discuss their feelings, experiences, and any concerns they might have. This helps keep communication lines open.

Encourage Peer Relationships:

Encourage positive social interactions by encouraging your child to spend time with their friends. Supportive friendships can have a positive impact on mental health.

Involve the School:

Collaborate with your child’s school to create a supportive environment. This may involve working with teachers, counsellors, and other staff to address any academic or social challenges.

Utilise Technology:

Explore mental health apps or online resources that can supplement professional treatment. However, ensure that these resources are reputable and align with your child’s treatment plan.

Model Healthy Behaviour:

Children often learn from observing their parents. Model healthy coping mechanisms, stress management, and self-care practices.

Encourage Self-Expression:

Provide opportunities for your child to express themselves creatively. This could include art, music, or writing, which can serve as outlets for their emotions.

Promote a Healthy Lifestyle:

Ensure your child is getting regular exercise and maintaining a balanced diet. Physical well-being is closely linked to mental health.

Respect Boundaries:

Understand and respect your child’s need for personal space and privacy. While open communication is vital, forcing conversations can be counterproductive.

Celebrate Progress:

Acknowledge and celebrate any progress your child makes, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator.

Involve the Family:

Engage other family members in providing support. Create an atmosphere of understanding and empathy within the family.

Stay Informed About Medication:

If medication is part of the treatment plan, make sure you are well-informed about its purpose, potential side effects, and proper administration. Regularly communicate with the prescribing professional.

Remember that working closely with mental health professionals, maintaining open communication, and adapting strategies based on your child’s individual needs are crucial components of providing effective support. Every child is unique, so what works for one may not work for another. Tailor your approach based on your child.

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