Looking after a child or young person's mental health
As parents and carers, there are ways we can support our children to give them the best chance to stay mentally healthy.
Encouraging and guiding a child to think about their own mental health and wellbeing are vital skills you can teach them from a young age.
Find out how you can help a child to have good mental health, including knowing how to talk to a child about their mental health, and when to spot signs they might be struggling.
Plus get self-care tips for you, to help you look after your mental health while caring for others, and find out how to get more support if you, your child or your family need it.
Ways to support a child or young person
Be there to listen
Regularly ask your child how they're doing, to help them get used to talking about their feelings, and know there's always someone there to listen. You can get tips on Young Minds: How to talk to your child about mental health.
Support them through difficulties
Pay attention to how your child is feeling or behaving and try to help them work through difficulties. It may not be easy facing challenging behaviour, but try to help them understand what they're feeling and why. Learn more from the Maudsley Charity on difficult behaviour.
Stay involved in their life
Show interest in their life and what's important to them. It not only helps them value who they are but also makes it easier for you to spot problems and support them.
Encourage their interests
Support and encourage your child to explore their interests. Being active or creative, learning new things and being a part of a team helps connect us and boost our mental wellbeing.
Take what they say seriously
Listening to and valuing what they say makes them feel valued. Consider how to help them work through their emotions in constructive ways. Anna Freud Centre's guide on ways to support children and young people has more on this.
Build positive routines
Try to have structure around regular routines, especially around healthy eating and exercise. A good night's sleep is also important, so have a fixed time for going to bed and getting up. The Sleep Charity has relaxation sleep tips for children.
Signs a child might be struggling
A large number of children and young people will experience behavioural or emotional problems at some stage. For some, these will resolve with time, while others will need professional support.
It might be difficult to know if there is something upsetting your child, but there are ways to spot when something's wrong. Look out for:
- significant changes in behaviour
- ongoing difficulty sleeping
- withdrawing from social situations
- not wanting to do things they usually like
- self-harm or neglecting themselves
When to get professional help for a child or young person
You know your child better than anyone, so if you're worried, first think if there has been a significant change in their behaviour.
If there has, is it caused by any specific events or changes in their life? Does it only happen at home, school or college, or when they're with others or alone?
If you're worried or unsure, there is lots of support out there (see the support section on this page). MindEd for Families also has information explaining some common behavioural problems in different age groups.
Looking after your own mental health
Parenting or caring for a child or young person can be tough at times. It's important to look after your own mental wellbeing, as this will help you support yourself while you are supporting others.
Try to recognise and acknowledge when you're feeling low or overwhelmed. Struggling with something or experiencing your own mental health problems does not make you a bad parent or carer.
It's completely normal to be worried, scared or helpless during difficult times, and feeling this way is nothing to be ashamed of.
If you can, tell someone you trust how you're feeling. Maybe there's family, friends or a colleague who could support you or allow you a break?
You should never feel like you must cope on your own, as there's help available. Scope has advice on managing stress when caring for a disabled child and Young Minds has lots of support for parents.
Support for parents and carers
If you're concerned about a child or young person's mental health, you can get free, confidential advice via phone, email or webchat from the Young Minds Parents Helpline.
Action for Children has lots of tips to help you spot signs of mental health issues in children and advice on the action you can take to help.
Barnardo's has also set up the See, Hear, Respond support hub – a dedicated service to help children, young people and their families or carers with problems caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Experiencing the loss of a friend or loved one can be extremely difficult. The Childhood Bereavement Network has information and links to national and local organisations you or the child you look after might find helpful.
Any professional that works with children and young people should be able to help you get support. You could talk to a teacher, school nurse, social worker or GP.
You can find more information about NHS children and young people's mental health services (CYPMHS) on the NHS website. You can also look at your local Clinical Commissioning Group website, and most services also have their own website with information about access, referrals (including whether you can "self-refer") and contact details – try searching in your area for "CYPMHS" or "CAMHS" (children and adolescent mental health services, an older term used for some CYPMHS).
If you are worried about a child or young person who has or may have an eating disorder, check if your local Children and Young People's Community Eating Disorder Team accepts self-referrals and contact them as soon as possible. You can also speak to your GP. Beat has lots more useful advice for children, young people and adults.
If you look after a child that has additional needs, Mencap, the Mental Health Foundation and the National Autistic Society all have excellent resources and support for parents or carers of children with learning disabilities or autism.
If you have any concerns at all about a child’s safety or wellbeing, including their mental health, you can contact the NSPCC Helpline 7 days a week, via the website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0808 800 5000. It does not have to be an emergency – you might be looking for guidance and support. Dedicated NSPCC child protection specialists will be able to advise and take any necessary action.