Mental health and younger children

mother comforting young sonWe read a lot in the press about teenage mental health, but what about younger children? Parents will be all too aware of the increasing pressures on children earlier in life, their exposure to worrying stories in the news, and other influences which have an impact on kids of all ages.

It's never too early or too late to start thinking about your child's mental health - the good (if scary) fact being that, 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.

Children's mental health charity Place2Be offer some advice below on creating open conversation with children, and tips on how parents can identify and deal with any mental health issues early.


1. Be present

With all the pressures on modern families, it's easy to become distracted. Make time to be with your child one-to-one, when you can very deliberately commit to putting other worries to one side. It's difficult when things are hectic, it can often feel like life is getting in the way, but reminding your child you have time for them will help you both in the long run.


2. Playtime is essential

Enjoying a quiet activity together can make it easier to talk to your child without it turning into an interrogation. While you are both being creative and relaxed, you can encourage your child to talk openly – about what they're doing, but also anything else that's on their mind.


3. Be a good role model

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 with their own emotions. This is particularly crucial during difficult times, such as a family bereavement or if you're going through a divorce.


4. Observe your child's behaviour

Children communicate through their behaviour; if something is troubling them or they exhibit sudden or extreme changes such as becoming very withdrawn and uncommunicative - or alternatively, lashing out and becoming boisterous or even violent - all this can indicate that something's wrong. Be observant, and try to address why it is they are acting a certain way.


5. If you're worried, get advice

Speak to a professional such as your GP, or your child's school-based counsellor (if one is available). You can also try talking to your child directly about what's bothering them. Try to find a way of bringing up the conversation without putting pressure on them, perhaps during a car journey or, for younger children, when you're playing with them. This can help them to open up naturally.


6. Look after your own mental health

Parenting can be a very stressful experience. Looking after your own mental health, including getting advice or help yourself when you need it, will have the most beneficial impact on the wellbeing of your child.



Children's mental health charity, Place2Be, works with children aged four to 14 across 235 UK schools, and has launched Children's Mental Health Week (16-22 February 2015) to raise awareness of the benefits of talking openly with young children about their feelings and getting help. Visit the Place2Be website for more information. 

Last updated: over 1 year ago