Children’s mental health experts are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems in children. Issues such as fear, isolation, loss of school routine and limited social interaction have all contributed to an increase in the number of children being referred for psychological support services. Read on to find tips on educating children about mental health.
According to mentalhealth.org.uk, 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year, based on pre-COVID data. Despite there being such high numbers of children experiencing mental health issues, only 50% are established by age 14.
This is why the support network around children is vital in helping to identify any signs of mental health problems and fast tracking the use of intervention solutions, if required. Teachers and pastoral support staff can monitor children in school but it is also important to be having conversations with children about mental health outside of school too. Parents need to take an active role in teaching children about mental health and how to deal with stress, so that their children know the best coping strategies.
By talking to your child about their mental health, they will be better equipped to understand what they are feeling, when they are feeling stressed. If a child can recognise when they are feeling low or upset, then you can talk to them about developing coping strategies that they can turn to when they feel that way.
How to speak to your child about mental health
The way you approach the conversation about mental health will depend on the age of your child but it is important to try and do more listening than talking. A good way to start the conversation is to be positive and comforting, for example, by telling your child how much you love them and that you will always protect them.
Start the conversation when you have no distractions, after you have finished eating a meal together or when you have played a game. Avoid having a conversation when your child is tired, as they will be less tuned into the conversation.
Ideally, choose a time when the topic is relevant, for example, if you have watched something on TV together where a character is experiencing poor mental health or if they pick up on someone around them being upset.
It is important to show your child that you will always be there to have open conversations about their mental health and how they are feeling, and explain that many people experience feeling low or anxious throughout life.
How to spot signs of stress in your child
Sometimes it is difficult to understand some of the behaviours that you see your child displaying but understanding the most common signs of stress will help you to identify the best course of action to take.
These are some of the signs to look out for:
As children grow up, they can often go through moody periods and is often due to hormones especially during puberty. However, if your child has mood swings and seems to be withdrawing from activities that they once enjoyed, this is a sign that they could be under stress.
Expressing worries on a regular basis
Another sign that your child could be feeling stressed is if they routinely express worries about a range of different topics. If they used to be more care-free and they have started to express worries and fears about things they would have previously felt comfortable with, you should ask them more details about why they have concerns.
Stomachaches and headaches
Many children who are feeling heavily stressed will get physical symptoms such stomach pains and headaches, so if this is happening regularly, you should ask your child if anything is worrying them. There could be a different explanation, such as a food intolerance or too much screen time but these symptoms can be a sign of stress.
If your child is struggling to sleep through the night, is having nightmares on a regular basis or is bedwetting, these are all signs of stress. Talk to your child about what is going through their mind as they try to go to sleep or what they are having nightmares about, there could be something triggering it that could be resolved to enable them to sleep well again.
Change in eating habits
A change in eating habits can also be a strong indicator of how your child is feeling. Some children might lose their appetite while feeling stressed, while others might binge on food or over-indulge on high-fat foods. Monitor your child’s eating habits and talk to them if you see any noticeable changes.
Mental health support
As well as educating your child about mental health at home and having regular conversations about how they are feeling, it is important to seek additional support if needed.
Gateways has specialised pastoral staff who are experienced in working with children and building good relationships with them to help when they are feeling stressed and to help them to find coping strategies. The earlier that children can identify that they are going through stress and develop their own specific coping strategies the more equipped they will be when they go through stress at other points in their life. Parents should take an active role in this and ensure their children are fully equipped with the best coping strategies that work for them.