For any parent, your children's health and wellbeing is a central concern, and sometimes these concerns turn into major fears. When Action for Children asked parents around the UK what health issues they worried about for their children, we found one thing stood out clearly in front of the others.
Parents' most common worry about their children's health is emotional wellbeing and mental health. That may come as a surprise but it echoes what we are seeing in our own services, where a majority of our frontline staff say they are seeing rising mental health needs among children and young people.
Given that so many parents worry about their children's mental health and wellbeing, it is vital that parents and children can talk honestly about their worries. This is needed both in families and in society's wider debates so that mental health gets the attention it needs.
Recognising and talking about the seriousness of mental health problems doesn't mean scaring people though. Issues with mental health affect people differently at different times and can often be managed or lessened. For children and young people they can be linked to times in their life when they are going through the most changes, personally and socially. In our polling it was parents with children aged 5-10 and 11-15 who most often said emotional wellbeing and mental health was a worry. These are the ages when children start and change schools, and start going through puberty, which can be anxious times for children and parents.
Although the thought of children suffering from mental health problems can be scary, help is at hand. Through our children's centres, Action for Children provides families with places they can go to find support. Children can play and make friends in a safe environment that nurtures emotional wellbeing, and parents can get non-judgemental advice, as well as access support themselves. Knowing that there is somewhere safe and supportive nearby can help families when they are isolated as well as improving wellbeing. We work with parents to overcome problems their family is facing and to feel in control of difficult situations. This includes classes, one-on-one support and working with other services.
Taking the first step towards asking about mental health support can be a hard one, but we can all do something for parents worried about their children. Listen. The more that people openly discuss their wellbeing and are listened to, the better. Getting the right help early can make a great difference to families and give children and young people the emotional grounding to reach their potential and prevent mental health problems in their future. That is a price and a cost that we should not have to pay.