Supporting mental health through early childhood

Promoting good mental health is key to your child’s development through their primary school years. Here’s how can you make sure they’re getting what they need and how to spot the signs that they might be struggling.

Written by Medibank

As parents we’re always looking for ways to make sure our children are safe and happy; from making sure they get a good night’s sleep to sneaking veggies into their lunchboxes. But are we doing enough to promote good mental health habits in our children? 

mother talking to young daughter on step

Taking care of your child’s mental health is an important part of their healthy development. It can help them build positive social, emotional and communication skills. It can also lead the way for a more resilient adulthood. Not only do children with good mental health feel happy and positive about themselves but they will also be able to build good relationships and bounce back from tough times. They might also be more willing to try new and challenging things.

Here’s how you can help foster healthy emotional development in your child, and how to spot the signs something is wrong.

How can you promote good mental health in your child?

  • Nurture your relationship: a positive relationship with your child will directly affect their mental health for the better. You’re probably already showing your child all the love and support they need but ensuring that you tell them you love them, no matter how challenging their behaviour has been and taking time to give an extra hug or praise for good behaviour can go a long way. · Give them time: making time in the day, even when you’re busy, to talk and listen to your child can promote better mental health. If your child tries to talk to you, try to stop what you’re doing and give them your full attention. Even better, try engaging in activities your child enjoys whether that’s playing outside or reading together.
  • Help them connect: helping your child foster relationships outside of your family unit can give them a stronger sense of their place in the world and help them relate to others. Encourage them to chat to neighbours (under your supervision) or invite friends around for play dates.
  • Talk it out: encourage your child to recognise and give voice to their emotions. If you can see they are frustrated, ask them to tell you how they feel. For example, “how does it make you feel when we can’t go to the park right away?”. You can also let them know that it’s normal to have big feelings: “I know it’s frustrating when you want to do something but you can’t. I understand how you feel.” The key is to keep communicating with your child through the ups and downs.
  • Set a good example: show your child the way by managing your own emotions in a healthy way. Try not to berate yourself in front of your children or use negative self-talk. Kids pick up signals from adults, so by showing calmness in dealing with stressful situations, you are showing them the way.
  • Set boundaries: having clear family rules about behaviour can help your child understand the concept of rules and consequences. These boundaries will help make your child feel safe and secure – just make sure to remain consistent, even when they are testing them! 
  • Manage expectations: let your child know that difficult times are a part of life but that they will pass and get better. Talk your child through situations you have experienced or maybe even recount their own past experiences: “Remember when you found it scary to start a new school? And now you love it?” Hold back: Try taking a step back rather than rushing in to help your child. Learning to problem solve is a key part of becoming a resilient adult so letting them figure things out for themselves is important. Make sure to let them know you are always here to help them if they need you and then give them the space to work it out on their own.

Better supported with 24/7 Mental Health Phone Support

When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it can be hard to know where to start. Members with hospital cover can talk to a mental health professional for advice, guidance and support anytime of the day or night.~

Signs your child might need extra support

Even when you give your child all the love and support, they might still need some extra support. Beyond Blue suggests looking out for the following signs of concern. If these issues arise and stick around for more than a few weeks and interfere with school, home or friendships it’s a good time to seek professional advice. · Frequent or unexplained temper tantrums and aggressive reactions

  • Unusual fears
  • Difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep
  • Sadness or feelings of hopelessness that don’t go away
  • Avoiding friends, family or school on a regular basis
  • Hyperactive behaviour or constant movement that goes beyond regular play
  • Disinterest or decline in school performance
  • Difficulties with concentration, attention or organisation
  • Any significant behavioural changes over a short period of time.

Kids experience a wide range of emotions as their minds grow and develop day-by-day. This means that these signs in isolation may not be a cause for concern. As a parent, you know your child best so if you are worried or feel that they seem distressed, it’s worth reaching out for support and advice.

Reaching out for support

Your local GP is a great place to start if you think your child might need some help. Your GP may be able to provide ongoing care or suggest another mental health professional who can offer support.

Your chosen health professional will likely complete a mental health assessment so they can provide tailored treatment for your child’s needs. You can find out more about all the ways your health insurance can support you here; from in hospital treatment to telehealth services If you’re a Medibank member with hospital cover, you can call the Medibank Mental Health Phone Support service on 1800 644 325 to talk through your concerns and make a plan.

Managing mental health at home

There are some things you can do to help your child cope with anxiety or other mental health struggles. Here are some things you can do at home.

  • Slow down: This is always the best place to start. Take some slow, deep breaths together. Breathe in for three seconds, hold for three, then out for three. Once they're feeling a bit calmer, you can talk through what's worrying them.
  • Face their fears: ask them to tell you about their fears and what exactly they are worried about. Show your child that you understand, but don’t necessarily share their worries. Reassure them that they are safe and explain why their fears have no basis. Do not ridicule or dismiss their feelings and make sure you respond sensitively. · Implement healthy habits: Prioritising healthy habits such as exercise, healthy diet and a good night’s sleep can all help promote better mental health for the whole family.
  • Meditate together: Practicing meditation and mindfulness as a family can help your child learn healthy coping mechanisms for when they feel anxious or afraid. Smiling Mind’s family toolkit can help you integrate mindfulness into your family routine. With activity sheets, tips from psychologists and information on the benefits of mindfulness the toolkit supports wellbeing for the whole family.

Need a little extra support?

Telehealth services

Access mental health services from the comfort of your own home. Medibank members with eligible extras can access psychology or counselling consultations face-to-face or through telehealth, with benefits payable towards Medibank recognised Counsellors only.#

Find out more

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.

No waiting periods on psychology and counselling consultations

You shouldn’t have to wait for your health insurance to claim for mental health support. That’s why there are no waiting periods for counselling and psychology consultations on Medibank extras and packaged products.§

Read more about using your cover

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.

# Check your cover summary to see if these services are included on your extras cover and if annual limits apply.  Counsellors must be registered with Australian Counselling Association, Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, Australian Traditional Medicine Society.   

§ For members with mental health support included in their Extras cover. Annual limits apply. Counsellors must be registered with Australian Counselling Association, Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, Australian Traditional Medicine Society.   

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).