Supporting your Child's Mental Health
Looking after a child or young person's mental health
There are times when we all feel the strain – children, parents and carers included. As parents and carers, there are ways we can support children and young people to give them the best chance to gain and maintain their mental health and wellbeing.
Tips to support children and young people – as developed by leading researchers
1. Be there to listen
Regularly ask how they're doing and what they are feeling to normalise their emotions, and also so they know there's always someone to listen if they want it. Find out how to create a space where they will open up.
2. Stay involved in their life
Show interest in their life and the things that are 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.
3. Take what they say seriously
Listening to, and valuing what they say, without judging their feelings makes them feel valued. Consider how to help them process and work through their emotions in a more constructive way.
4. Support them through difficulties
Pay attention to their emotions and behaviour, and try to help them work through difficulties. It's not always easy when faced with challenging behaviour, but try to help them understand what they're feeling and why.
5. Encourage their interests
Being active or creative, learning new things and being a part of a team help connect us with others and are important ways we can all support our mental health and wellbeing. Support and encourage them to explore their interests, whatever they are.
6. Build positive routines
Building structure around regular routines, healthy eating and exercise, as well as a good night's sleep is really important – try to keep routines that fit with school, even if it is school holidays.
Signs to look out for
Some young people will experience behavioural or emotional problems growing up. For some, these will resolve with time, while others will need professional support.
It can be difficult to know if there is something upsetting a child or young person, but there are warning signs that may be because a mental health issue is developing. Look out for:
- significant changes in behaviour;
- ongoing difficulty sleeping;
- withdrawing from social situations;
- not wanting to do things they usually like; and/or
- self-harm or neglecting themselves.
Remember, everyone feels low, angry or anxious at times. But you know your child better than anyone, so if you're worried, first think if there has been a significant, lasting change in their behaviour. This could be at home, school or university; with others or on their own; or in relation to specific events or changes in their life. Ultimately, changes in a young person’s thinking, feeling and behaviour that last for more than two weeks may indicate that a mental health problem is developing. If the answer is yes, it might worthwhile to get professional help. If you're concerned or unsure, there is lots of support out there.
- Prevention United, in collaboration with Monash University, have developed Partners in Parenting, a free, online parenting program that helps to protect your teenager's mental wellbeing and reduce their risk of experiencing depression and anxiety.
- Beyond Blue’s Healthy Families gives you the information, knowledge and confidence to support the young people in your life by age groups; they also have information if you’re a new parent or about to become one.
- Kids Helpline has a large amount of information to support parents.
- ReachOut is an online mental health service for young people and their parents and provide different types of support, depending on what you and your teenager need and want.
- Headspace has information for friends and family around raising sensitive issues and working to resolve challenging problems. Headspace recognises that it can be hard as a parent to know the difference between normal behaviour, such as moodiness, irritability and withdrawal, and an emerging mental health problem. This section is designed to help you.
- The Families Under Pressure campaign includes 12 videos containing simple tips and tricks, formulated by researchers and mental health experts, which are backed by science and proven to work with families.
Looking after your own mental health
Parenting or caring for a child or young person can be tough. It's important to make sure you look after your own mental wellbeing, as this will help you support yourself and those you care about. Try to recognise and acknowledge when you're feeling low or overwhelmed. Struggling with something or experiencing your own mental health issues or conditions 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. Is there a friend, fellow parent or carer you trust enough to share how you're feeling? Maybe there's family, friends or a colleague who could support you or allow you a break?
There's plenty of help out there. You should never feel like you have to cope on your own. Kids Helpline has lots of support for parents, including a helpline and guidance around parenting a child with a mental health issue or condition.
COPMI has information and suggestions on how to manage issue or condition.
Find out more about how to look after your mental health and wellbeing.
In an emergency call 000 or visit your local emergency department
There are hundreds of mental health and alcohol and other drug services across Western Australia.
You can get help by:
- Calling a helpline if you are looking for someone to talk to. They are there to listen, provide advice, information and referrals.
- Searching the My Services online directory, which helps make it easier to navigate the system and find the right support for mental health, alcohol and other drug issues.
- Visiting your GP for advice and support
- Seeking support online via live chat and online forums.
Community support services provide support to individuals, families and carers to help with mental health, alcohol or other drug issues. They include:
- mobile outreach services;
- drop in centres;
- group programs;
- personalised support services to enable people to remain in their home or local community; and
- programs for families and carers.
It's important that you find the right service for you and keep looking if you haven't found it yet. Mental health services may require a referral from a General Practitioner, private psychiatrist or public mental health service. We recommend you check with the service you’re interested in to make sure. If you are ever in doubt, seek advice from a health professional such as your GP.
Think Mental Health thanks and acknowledges the Public Health England’s NHS Every Mind Matters for use of this content.
Last updated: December 2020