We are living in difficult and uncertain times, leaving many of us feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It is a worrying time for many parents and carers who are concerned about the impact the pandemic is having on the emotional wellbeing of their children. However, there are ways we can support our children and young people to give them the best chance to stay mentally healthy at this difficult time. The information below will help you to support your child and to know how to access support.
Approximately one in eight children and young people experience behavioural or emotional problems growing up. For many, these will resolve with time, while others will need professional support.
It can be really difficult as a parent to know if there is something upsetting your child, or whether this is maybe a mood swing or a sign of a hormonal/development change. There are ways to spot when something is wrong. Some things to look out for are:
The most important thing to remember is you know your child best. If you’re worried, think about if there has been a significant change in their behaviour, that has lasted for an extended period of time. This could be at home, school or college; with others or on their own; or in relation to specific events or changes in their life, including changes caused by the pandemic.
If you’re concerned or unsure, there is lots of support out there, including professional help. www.dewis.wales is a good place to find services in your area. You can also contact the Family Information Service and your Local Children Centre. Other useful sites include:
Useful links and services for your child:
Hwb Young Person’s Mental Health Toolkit
Here you will find six playlists to direct you to a wide range of online resources to help you through the lockdown and beyond. In each of the playlists you’ll find self-help websites, apps, helplines, and more that are here to support your mental health and well-being. To access the playlists, click here.
CALM HARM: Mobile App to help teenagers resist or manage the urge to self-harm. (Free)
CHILDLINE: www.nspcc.org.uk 0800 1111
HARMLESS: Offer advice and Information regarding young people who may self-harm or experience such thoughts. www.harmless.org.uk
YOUNGMINDS: www.youngminds.org.uk 0808 802 5544
SELF HARM UK: Offers an online space to talk and ask questions about concerns in their life. www.selfharm.co.uk
RETHINK MENTAL ILLNESS: www.rethink.org.uk/ 0300 5000 927
NATIONAL SELF HARM NETWORK: NSHN is an online forum that lets you talk to other people in a safe, controlled environment. www.nshn.co.uk
THE MIX: 0808 808 4994
PAPYRUS: Papyrus HOPElineuk 0800 068 41 41 www.papyrus.org.uk
YOUNGMINDS CRISIS MESSENGER: Text YM to 85258 for free 24/7 support
HEADSPACE: Is a mindfulness app with lots of different programmes to support mental health.
SANE: Saneline operates from 4.30pm to 10.30pm daily for mental health support. 0300 304 7000
WELLMIND: This App was developed by the NHS and helps with symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s a great way of keeping track of your thoughts and feelings.
CATCH THAT THOUGHT: This app is great to monitor difficult thoughts and emotions, when you experience them and where.
THE STRESS AND ANXIETY COMPANION: The app encourages positive thinking through its simplified CBT process and helps you to understand triggers.
THRIVE: This app helps you collect your thoughts and understand your emotions.
MEIC: MEIC is the helpline service for children and young people up to the age of 25 in Wales. From finding out what’s going on in your local area to help dealing with a tricky situation, MEIC will listen even when no-one else will. We won’t judge you and will help by giving you information, useful advice and the support you need to make a change. www.meiccymru.org/
Be there to listen
It’s important to regularly ask your child how they are, so they get used to talking about their feelings and know there’s always someone to listen if they want to talk. Creating a fun space can help with this, some parents find during activities their children can open up more about how they feel. This may include baking, arts and crafts, sports, board games, reading stories and talking about them afterwards.
The important thing is trying to be engaged with your child and giving them your time without distraction. Paying attention to their emotions and behaviour, will help you to note important changes and understand their needs better.
Stay involved in their life
Many children and young people grow in confidence and feel supported when a parent shows an active interest in their life and the things 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.
Encourage their interests
Supporting your child to keep active, learn new skills and be connected with their community and friends is one of the best ways to keep your child’s emotional health on track. Whilst we are spending more time at home together it is a great opportunity to talk to your child about their interests and what they enjoy, you can then think of ways to support them in those interests. Very often these things don’t have to cost a lot of money and very often your local Family Information Service will be able to tell you what’s free and reasonably priced in your area. Schools, colleges and your local authority will also have good ideas or may be able to access things that will support your child’s interests.
Take what they say seriously
Listening to your child and valuing what they say, without judging their feelings, in turn makes them feel valued and grows their trust and confidence in your relationship. This isn’t always easy, sometimes when your child describes how they are feeling, it can be difficult to hear, even accept. Particularly when we hear this for the first time. The most important thing is not to react in the moment or disregard the child’s feelings, but listen calmly and show that you are engaged and want to help. It’s good to talk about why they may be feeling like they are, but remember many children and young people do not know why, but they know how they feel. It’s good to talk about what they think will help and what you think with help and some things you can try. Sometimes just talking about it and having a plan in place can make a big difference to your child.
It’s good to check in with your child, but try to let them take the lead in how much they share, it’s a tough balance but over questioning can sometimes lead to a child becoming reluctant to share, so take your cue from them and offer regular opportunities without any pressure.
Build positive routines
We know it is not easy to create a routine and structure at this time, with the regular lockdowns and the need to self-isolate, our usual routines can be thrown out of balance. Research does however tell us that the majority of children feel better with a positive routine in place. Routines and structures can support a child’s wellbeing and encourage positive behaviours. A good place to start can be to reintroduce regular routines at home around healthy eating and exercise. A good night’s sleep is also really important – try to get them back into routines that fit with school or college.
Looking after your own mental health
Parenting or caring for a child or young person can be tough at times. It’s really important to look after your own mental health and wellbeing, as this will help you support those you care for.
Recognising and acknowledging when you’re feeling low or overwhelmed is an important first step. Struggling with something or experiencing your own mental health problems does not mean you are a bad parent or carer.
It’s completely normal to be anxious and worried during difficult times, the most important thing is that you recognise this. You may be feeling exhausted, emotional and anxious and if these feeling persist it may be time to start thinking of ways you can look after your mental health better and this may include getting professional support. Below we have provided some useful information you may find helpful.
The Five Ways to Wellbeing sets out the simple steps we can all take to look after our mental health and wellbeing. You can also read useful ‘tips for everyday living’ on the MIND mental health charity website and find practical ways to look after your mental health on the Mental Health Foundation website.
It also might be helpful to speak to a friend, fellow parent or carer you trust enough to tell 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. See our Adults mental health FAQ’s for further information and contact details.
Starting a conversation can be hard, especially if you’re worried about your child and what they may be feeling. The most important thing is you give your child the opportunity to talk if they want to. It doesn’t really matter what topic the conversation starts with – it’s about the opportunity it gives you both to talk about feelings and to provide comfort.
Here’s some conversation starters:
Lots of parents find it useful when starting a conversation to pick a current topic they know their child would be interested in. This may be a new song that talks about emotions, a magazine with an interesting article in, a film you recently watched together, or a storyline in a soap or TV programme. This places less focus on the child and often leads to natural conversations about feelings. As mentioned above sometimes doing a fun activity together can help too and provides a relaxed and comfortable environment to get the conversation started.
Thank them for sharing what’s happening with you. Try and encourage that their openness and honesty is a very positive thing and acknowledge how they’re feeling.
Let them know that you love them, you’re there to support them and that they can talk to you. You are listening and ready to help and listen more when they need it.
Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help or anything anyone else can do to help.
Spend time together thinking about what’s making them feel this way. Discuss whether there any changes that could have made them feel this way and think about the things you can do to help.
Let your child know about the helplines, textlines and online chat services that are available if they need to talk to someone outside the family. You can find a list of these above in the Child and Young Person Section.
If you think your child needs professional support to feel better you can speak to your Child’s School or GP, who will be able to advise you on how to access mental health services. Together you can discuss whether referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), an assessment by a mental health specialist, or referral for another kind of support is needed. You can speak to your GP, school or local children’s centre with or without your child.
CAMHS is the name for the NHS services that support children and young people with their emotional wellbeing and mental health.
There are NHS CAMHS services across Wales, with local teams made up of friendly and supportive staff. These staff will include nurses, therapists, psychologists, child and adolescent psychiatrists (medical doctors specialising in mental health), support workers and social workers, as well as other professionals.
CAMHS provide support for many different types of conditions or issues children and young people can experience, including depression, problems with food, self-harm, abuse, violence or anger, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety, among other difficulties.
If your child needs emotional support and help to make sense of their feelings, they might benefit from seeing a counsellor or therapist. You may be able to access this for free through your GP or your child’s school. If it’s an affordable option, you can also consider a private child counsellor. To find more information about accessing counselling services contact your local CAMHS Team.