How to Support Your Child’s Mental Health
The closure of schools and quarantine is taking a toll on the mental health of students. Daunting as it may be to broach the subject of mental health and kids, there’s reason to be optimistic. According to Parents for Children’s Mental Health, early intervention can address 70% of mental health cases in children.
Getting ahead of mental health disorders and offering support to those who need it empowers both the at-risk child and the adults who love them. The good news? There are a multitude of ways you can support your child’s mental health.
Provide your child with the tools and skills to problem solve and resolve conflict. This will help them with the roadblocks, responsibilities, and inevitable setbacks they’ll face. Boost their self-confidence by supporting good decision-making, assertiveness, perseverance, and self-determination.
- Openly, honestly and often
- Notice the little conversation openers your child offers up
- Ask non-judgmental questions and really pause to listen to what they have to say
- Acknowledge their feelings
- Answer questions directly and honestly
- Give your child undivided attention
- Resist the urge to quickly jump in with solutions or advice
- And, above all, make time to connect whenever you can
Nurture a healthy, safe environment at home
Establishing routines and setting clear boundaries, rules and limits are key, as is building in daily time together. Mealtimes are fantastic opportunities to talk and listen (especially when devices are put away!). Kids who share fewer meals with their family become sexually active or experiment with drugs at earlier ages. Kids living in a healthy, supportive environment have better health and less risk of mental disorders.
Demonstrate that you value and accept your child for who they are.
Provide outlets to relieve anxiety and stress
Physical activity, meditation and the arts are super for self-expression and growth. They work wonders on a young person’s overall mental health and ability to handle stress.
Avoid involving children in adult problems
When dealing with your own personal issues, look to other adults for support instead of bringing your child into the fray. Not arguing in front of your child or asking them to pick sides is important to maintaining your child’s mental health.
When necessary, seek professional help
If your child needs more intensive support, don’t hesitate. Your family doctor is a great place to start. They can help you navigate the various therapies, support groups, help lines, and other services available. They’ll also help you determine which may be the best fit for your child. Provide information on your local help line to your child so they can access services. That way, they’ll have someone they can speak to confidentially, if they ever need someone else to talk to.
Keep an eye on online activity
Monitor your child’s social media activity or messaging apps to see how they’re feeling, coping and interacting with others. Keep it subtle and non-intrusive so they feel their self–expression and privacy are being respected. To learn more about the effects of social media on children, check out our blog post.
Unfortunately, only one in four kids and teens in Canada who need mental health treatment can get it. There are many reasons for this. Parents and caregivers can have mixed feelings about getting their children help for their mental illness. They may worry about being blamed for their child’s change in behavior, or they worry about what treatments may be tried. Mental illnesses can be frightening, and many people worry what others will think if they talk about their experiences.
Early treatment can help reduce the impact of a mental illness on your child’s life. The kind of treatment that works best for your child will depend on your child’s needs. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the different options. While the pandemic has changed how we access services, some treatment options such as counselling and support groups are becoming accessible online or through phone.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy—Helps young people recognize and change thinking patterns and behaviors
- Family therapy—Can help you look at what you can do as a family to help your child through their mental illness and manage behaviors
- Interpersonal therapy—Helps young people to feel more comfortable interacting with others
- Educational interventions—Can help your child by teaching them ways to manage their time in the classroom
Doctors can prescribe medications for mood, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental health disorders. If you aren’t comfortable with your child taking medications, then express your concerns to your doctor. They can explain which medications, if any, would be right for your child and go over the benefits and risks of medications with you. Medications are usually not the first type of treatment considered. If they’re suggested, they are usually meant to work in connection with other treatments or supports.
- For teens, groups of others who’ve gone through or are going through what they’re going through (sometimes called peer support groups)
- Groups for family members of someone with a mental illness, including children, to meet other families in similar situations
Looking for more information on how to support your child’s mental health?