By Yvonne Hignell, Care & Support Services Director
It is estimated that around 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem in the UK.
While talking about mental health won’t ever be easy, and there has been a lot of stigma surrounding it in the past, starting a conversation can make a world of difference. If a child is accustomed to talking about their feelings it will be easier for them to open up if they experience any mental health challenges.
Starting a conversation
To begin with, try having short, informal chats. Rather than sitting your child down specifically to talk about their feelings, open up a conversation whilst you’re doing something together such as eating dinner or during the ad breaks whilst watching TV.
At first, you might find it easier to depersonalise the situation or refer to your own experiences. For example, you could start off by saying something like “I found it really difficult when I had exams coming up, how are you coping?”
Remember that the most important thing is to listen carefully and empathise. Sometimes, just letting your child offload is all that’s needed. Show them you have listened by repeating back to them a summary of what they have said. Let them know you care and reassure them, but only after they’ve finished speaking. Try to keep relaxed – children may worry about upsetting and worrying parents.
Don’t be disappointed if this doesn’t work first time. Your child may not want to open up straight away and there may be times they don’t feel like talking.
Children are incredibly resilient and are able to find some pretty impressive coping strategies. Asking questions like “have you found ways to deal with this” or “what has helped you in the past” can assist your child in recognising their coping strategies – making them easier to implement next time around.
Finding a solution
You don’t have to be an expert. It’s fine not to understand things about mental health, but there is plenty of information and advice available. You could even suggest that you and your child research it together.
Rather than rushing in with a solution, try to find an answer together – this will make your child feel empowered and help them to develop problem-solving tools. Ask them what they’d like you to do to help.
Highlight the positives and praise them for their achievements, and for tackling things that upset or worry them. Make sure that you allow time for them to do things they enjoy.
Helping your child to define central issues or worries and then asking them to think about any evidence they have to support their fears/anxieties can often help provide perspective on situations. When our worries are in our minds they can become overwhelming, talking them through and getting to the heart of an issue can bring a sense of control, and help your child to find some solutions.
Being a role-model
Children learn a lot from watching how their family react to situations. How do you behave when you are upset or stressed? If you get angry or refuse to open up, think about the message this sends. Being a parent is tough and we can’t be ‘perfect’ all the time. If you do behave in a way you later consider less than great, talk about it and explain why you did what you did and the feelings you had. Model the behaviours you know are positive and breed a healthy mind!
When your child is upset or going through a tough time at school, it can be distressing for you to see. Make sure you have someone you can turn to for support and try look after your mental wellbeing. You can read our other blog for advice on mental health.
Talking about your mental health
It’s understandable that you’d find it difficult to discuss your mental health challenges with your child. However, it might help them to cope as they’ll be able to make sense of the changes that they see in you.
Before you do anything it may be helpful to think about any worries you have in discussing it and the benefits. Consider having a chat with your partner, family member or a close friend to weigh up the pros and cons of telling your child.
If you do choose to open up, plan what to say to your child first so that it’s as clear as possible.
If you or a family member are facing mental health challenges, Ben is here for you. You can ring our free and confidential support line on 08081 311 333 or use our online chat.