Caring for your child’s mental health

It’s never too early to start good mental health habits.

Written by Medibank

As a parent you’re always trying to make sure they get enough sleep, eat all their vegetables and get to school on time. Your parenting to-do list is already long, but promoting good mental health habits is something to keep in mind each step of the way. 

mother hugs young daughter on sofa

In fact, half of all mental health issues begin before a child turns 14, with anxiety being one of the most common conditions in Australian children.

That said, there are early signs you can look out for in your child and things you can do to foster their healthy emotional development.

Signs your child may need extra support

It’s normal to see changes in your child’s behaviours and emotions as they grow up but if you’re noticing significant differences in their mood or behaviour, they may need some extra support.

Beyond Blue share some behaviours to look out for:

  • being quiet, withdrawn or not wanting to be involved in things that they would normally enjoy,
  • emotional outbursts or feeling sad, ‘down’ or crying for no apparent reason,
  • changes in their appetite or sleeping patterns,
  • being easily irritated or having problems with friends and family for no reason,
  • feeling guilty or worthless,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • not wanting to go to school on a regular basis,
  • complaining of stomach pains or headaches often,
  • behaving differently to other children who are the same age.

Promoting the healthy development of your children

Your love, support and building a close relationship with your child can have a positive impact on their mental health and development as they grow. Take an interest in their life and get involved. Help them set goals and encourage independence. If something is bothering your child, teach them to manage their emotions and work through problems as they arise. The key is to always keep the conversation going through the ups and downs.

Encourage a good balance of healthy food and exercise as well as a regular sleep pattern.

Create a positive home environment and establish fair rules. Rules set boundaries and may minimise arguments and conflicts.

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I’m worried. What should I do?

If you believe your child is struggling with a mental health issue, there are things you can do to support them. For example:

Talk about it

Talking to your child and actively listening to them is the best place to start. Be honest with them if you are concerned about their mental health and ask them what support you can provide. If they don’t know, offer suggestions and be prepared to be rejected but know you’ll need to keep the conversation going. Find out more about starting the conversation.

Get active

Involve them in your routine outside of family activities. It could be as simple as running errands, going shopping or doing exercise together. They may open up during a car trip or feel confident to speak about how they’re feeling away from their normal routine. Another way is to involve them in decisions around the home and give them responsibility like deciding what’s for dinner and letting them help prepare it.

Avoid judgement

Don’t tell them to 'just calm down' or ‘get over it’ if they’re distressed. They need to be taken seriously. If they don’t want to talk to you, let them know they can talk to other trusted adults like a teacher, school counsellor or sports coach.

Get help

The best place to start is by speaking to your GP or health practitioner. They will be able to assess your child's individual situation and recommend the best next steps for your recovery.

Our team of mental health professionals are here to support you on our 24/7 Mental Health Phone Support line. It’s available to Medibank members with hospital cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 644 325.~

If at any point you feel like someone’s life is in danger, seek immediate help. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support and call 000 if you believe that someone’s life is in danger.

24/7 Mental Health Phone Support

Members with Hospital cover can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.

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Looking for something else?

Visit our Better Minds hub to find more tools and services.

Things you need to know

~ OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).