22/05/2015 13:17 BST | Updated 22/05/2016 06:59 BST

Should We Be Worried About Our Children's Mental Health?

We all face challenges in life - the everyday knocks, the ups and downs, but hopefully most of us can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and carry on.

This 'resilience', the ability to recover from difficulties, is something that as parents, we try to instil in our children.

We can't protect them entirely from all the hardships that they will face in life - in fact experiencing grief, loss and change is part of growing up - but we can teach them the skills to cope, and to know when to ask for help.

As part of my work, I often visit schools and speak to Head Teachers, and it is sad and alarming to hear that children as young as four or five are showing signs of anxiety and stress.

Even more worryingly, in some of the schools where Place2Be provides mental health support, we are seeing younger and younger children turning to self-harm as a coping strategy.

As a parent of a young child myself, I have to remind myself not to panic. If my conversations over the past 18 years with Place2Be's team of counsellors and therapists have taught me one thing, it's that it's never too early or too late to start thinking about your child's mental health.

I know it's easier said than done. The train is late, the phone is ringing, the washing pile is mounting, you forgot to buy milk...

But never mind! All that fades when you think about the importance of shaping and supporting children around you, and as parents we have a crucial role to play. So even if your child is still quite young, we've gathered a few practical tips to help busy parents develop their children's ability to cope with life's challenges as they grow:

  1. Find some one-on-one time: Modern life is so hectic that it's understandably difficult to make the time to sit down quietly and reflectively with your child and not be distracted by other things. But try to make sure you find regular time to be with your child, when you can very deliberately commit to putting other worries to one side and you can actively listen to them and their feelings.
  2. Play can be powerful: It helps children learn about themselves, their environment, people and the world around them. Creative activities such as art or role plays with toy figures can be a wonderful way to bond with your child and to help them express themselves - in my house we're all about dinosaurs just now! And if you're ever worried by anything that your child tells you or describes while they're playing it is well worth consulting with a professional.
  3. Be a role model: Do think about your own behaviour and how you deal with emotions such as anger and frustration, especially in front of your children, as this will influence how they behave and cope themselves. Providing a stable and consistent environment, with clear boundaries, will help your child to feel secure and better able to learn about and cope with the world around them.
  4. Be kind to yourself: Most importantly, remember that it's natural for everyone to get upset or angry sometimes, and parenting can be a very stressful experience. Look after your own mental health and wellbeing, as this will have the most beneficial impact of all on the wellbeing of your child. Check out online tools and apps like Moodscope which can help you lift your mood.
  5. If you think your child is troubled about something or may have a mental health issue, it's always worth seeking professional advice. Your GP can recommend local organisations who can offer support.