Every second of the day a child’s mind is developing. 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. 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- being quiet, withdrawn or not wanting to be involved in things that they would normally enjoy,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.
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.
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.
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.
If you notice significant changes in your child’s mood or behaviour, it’s important to seek professional help early.
If your child is at serious and immediate risk, call 000 if it is a life-threatening situation or Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support.
Otherwise, you could take them to your GP or call the Medibank Mental Health Phone Support service on 1800 644 325 for some advice from our team of mental health professionals, 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
If a young person you know needs help but doesn't want to talk to you or seek help, it can leave you feeling frustrated and hopeless. Make sure you look after yourself and reach out for support if you need it.
For more information and support
Mental health services for all ages – call 1300 224 636 or chat online.
Mental health service for ages 12-25 – call 1800 650 890 or chat online.
Youth mental health information – visit the website for info or use the online forum.
Select the Parentline to talk to someone.