That’s why it’s so important for parents to address issues affecting their child’s mental health from a young age. As Dr Fiona Pienaar, from children’s mental health charity Place2Be, explains: “Addressing issues as early as possible and helping children think about how to cope with difficult situations, can help prevent problems from spiralling and becoming more complex later in life.”
We’ve spoken to mental health specialists, doctors and charities to seek guidance and advice on how to deal with common problems affecting your child’s mental health.
1. How To Address: Anger
Emma Saddleton, parents’ helpline operations manager at YoungMinds said child anger is a “huge hidden problem in the UK”. “It’s enormous,” she said. “It debilitates parents and leaves them questioning how they parent their children.”
Parents are advised to: 1) acknowledge how their child is feeling, 2) help children spot the signs, 3) give them consistent boundaries and 4) get the school involved.
When speaking to children, Saddleton advised: “You can always say: ‘You’re right to feel angry, I completely acknowledge how you are feeling’. Try to separate out their feelings from their behaviour.”
2. How To Address: Anxiety
Jonathan Wood from Place2Be said it’s important for parents to acknowledge and offer support as soon as you are aware your child may be feeling anxious about a situation or event.
“Say something like: ‘I can see that you’re anxious/angry/upset... Would it help to talk about it?’” he advised.
When you begin to speak to your child about their feelings, Anxiety UK’s clinical advisor, Professor Karina Lovell, said parents should avoid phrases including: “don’t be silly”, “there is nothing to be afraid of”, “everything will be alright” or “calm down”.
She explained: “Comments such as these are unhelpful as they minimise the young person’s anxiety, ignore the young person’s distress completely and don’t offer them any alternatives or strategies to help the young person.”
3. How To Address: Body Image
Dr Marc Bush, YoungMinds’ chief policy adviser said it’s crucial for parents to start talking about positive body image to help their children develop healthy attitudes towards how they look.
He specifically spoke about boys as male sufferers may not recognise signs they have a negative body image due to persistent gender stereotypes.
“Look for opportunities to start conversations about male bodies,” he advised. “If you’re walking past a huge billboard and someone with a ripped six pack is on it, ask them what they think of the image.
“They might say what it reminds them of, and you would say: ‘Yeah, but it doesn’t look like many other men’.
“Allow young boys to talk about it and allow them to have time to voice their understanding about why they think these bodies are aspirational.”
4. How To Address: Depression
Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education and the University of Liverpool found in September 2017 that 14-year-olds’ own reports of their emotional problems were different to their parents’, highlighting the importance of having open conversations about emotions with your kids.
If parents are worried their child may be depressed, they should first see if they can spot any signs of symptoms of depression. These may include experiencing low mood; having a loss of interest in activities they normally enjoy; withdrawing from seeing friends and family and irritability and feelings of anger or lashing out unnecessarily.
If you are noticing these symptoms, Dr Monika Parkinson, clinical psychologist advised taking these next steps: “Just ask your child how they are, even if they tell you go to away.
“Do ask and don’t be put off to keep on asking. Parents need to give the message to their child that they are there to talk when they’re ready. Ask them how they are feeling and show you’ve noticed changes.”
5. How To Address: Panic Attacks
According to Anxiety UK, around one in 50 teenagers experience panic attacks. Young Minds told HuffPost UK anxiety is the single most common problem the charity hears about in the 14,000 calls to their helpline every year.
Parents are advised to: 1) not dismiss their child’s feelings, 2) stay calm, 3) practise breathing exercises, 4) consider emergency services and 5) always look into aftercare.
“Acknowledge how scary things feel for them and remind them this will pass, remind them that though scary, it is the body’s normal and natural response,” advised Dr Camilla Rosan, programme lead for families, children and young people at the Mental Health Foundation. “This can help them to know they’re safe and what they’re experiencing is understood.”
Parents are also advised to speak softly, as Saddleton advised: “Talk in a soothing manner. Say: ‘Darling, everything is going to be okay’. “Talk to them, but don’t expect them to talk back. Tell them to listen to your voice, hold their hand, and keep explaining that it will pass.”
For more general advice on speaking to your child about their mental health, read our guide for parents here.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.