Supporting your child's mental health

It's never too early or too late to start thinking about your child's mental health, and how as a parent, you have a hugely important role in helping them to develop their ability to cope with life's challenges as they grow.

The World Health Organisation defines 'mental health' as:

"A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."

Here are some simple actions and steps you can take at any age to help promote positive mental health:

Self-awareness

Feelings _parents With all the pressures on a modern day parent, it's all too easy to become distracted when you're with your child. Whether it's the phone ringing, the bill that needs paying, or the dinner that needs cooking, parents are often juggling many demands on their time - particularly if you have more than one child!

Make sure you carve out time to be with your child one-to-one, when you can very deliberately commit to putting other worries to one side and you can actively listen to them and their feelings. Try paraphrasing their words - this will help you tune in to the feelings behind the words.

Enjoying a quiet activity together can make it easier to talk to your child without it turning into an interrogation - something that parents of teenagers will be all too familiar with - and can encourage your child to open up naturally.

Modern life is so hectic that it's understandably difficult to make the time to sit down quietly and reflectively with your child and not be distracted by other things.  But you will all gain so much more in the long run - and benefit from taking a step back from today's busy lives and enjoy some dedicated time listening and playing with your child.

It's a good idea to make this a regular activity, and once you've committed, it's important to follow through so that your child knows they can count on you to hold this space for them.

Play

Play _parents Through play, children learn about themselves, their environment, people and the world around them. For younger children who sometimes don't have the words to describe their emotions, it can be very useful way to understand how they're feeling and to help them express themselves.

Creative activities such as arts or crafts can be a wonderful way to bond with your child using materials you have around the house. While you are being creative together, you can encourage your child to tell their story and talk through what they're doing.

Role plays with toy figures or animals can also be a powerfully telling insight into how a child is feeling. Trained therapists and counsellors who work with Place2Be often use this technique which can reveal the factors behind negative behaviours.

If you're ever worried by anything that your child tells you or describes while they're playing, it's well worth consulting with a professional.  

Relationships

Relationships _parents Children are extremely observant and aware of what is going on around them. As parents we are constant role models. It's important to think about your own behaviour and how you deal with emotions such as anger and frustration in front of your children, as this will influence how they behave and cope themselves.

Providing a stable and consistent environment, with clear boundaries, will help your child to feel secure and better able to learn about and cope with the world around them. 

Most importantly, remember that it's natural for everyone to get upset or angry sometimes, and parenting can be a very stressful experience. Be kind to yourself and look after your own mental health, as this will have the most beneficial impact of all on the wellbeing of your child.

 

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Craig's story

Craig's teacher referred him to Place2Be because he was always involved in fights in the playground