HOW TO BE AT­TUNED TO YOUR CHILD’S MEN­TAL HEALTH AD­VICE FOR PAR­ENTS

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - CHARITY APPEAL -

Many par­ents be­gin their calls to Young­Minds de­scrib­ing a se­ries of events and be­hav­iour and ask­ing, “Should I be wor­ried?” Teenagers are stereo­typ­i­cally moody and se­cre­tive, af­ter all. So what’s nor­mal and what’s emerg­ing de­pres­sion? Jo Hardy, the head of par­ent ser­vices at Young­Minds, out­lines the key mes­sages for par­ents.

BE THE FAM­ILY AN­CHOR

Your child may be feel­ing lost and, as a par­ent you will be equally fright­ened. But nor­mal­ity and rou­tine pro­vide com­fort for chil­dren with men­tal health prob­lems, so be their rock. Show them you can be upset, but still move on and thrive. You can’t avoid chal­lenges in life, like di­vorce, bul­ly­ing and be­reave­ment, but ex­plain to chil­dren that you can over­come them.

BE PART OF THE SO­LU­TION

Par­ents make a huge dif­fer­ence in their child’s re­cov­ery. You are the ex­pert in your child’s eyes, so re­spond to those pow­er­ful parental in­stincts. Speak to teach­ers, your GP, or to Young­Minds. Ask ques­tions and push for an­swers, and do it early. One in 10 chil­dren has an is­sue that war­rants a men­tal health di­ag­no­sis. Of those, only one in four gets sup­port. How­ever, 20 per cent of chil­dren have a prob­lem that won’t de­velop. If your child is in that 20 per cent, get in early be­cause you can do so much with emerg­ing anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.

CHECK IN WITH THEM

At Young­Minds, we ad­vise par­ents to check in with their chil­dren of all ages reg­u­larly, to find out how they are. Don’t in­ter­ro­gate them, but lis­ten and be re­cep­tive and sup­port­ive. And sep­a­rate the be­hav­iour from the child, mak­ing it clear you love them re­gard­less of how they’re act­ing. Main­tain com­mu­ni­ca­tion and don’t burn bridges.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR­SELF

As a par­ent go­ing through a child’s men­tal health prob­lem, you have to be OK. Too of­ten, par­ents are so fo­cused on hold­ing it to­gether for their chil­dren that they don’t look af­ter them­selves. Make sure you eat well, sleep enough, and lean on those around you. Talk about how you’re feel­ing and cry if you need to. This also helps your child be­cause they may even­tu­ally model your cop­ing be­hav­iour.

LOOK OUT FOR RED FLAGS BY THINK­ING ABOUT AGEAPPROPRIATE BE­HAV­IOUR

If your four-year-old clings to your leg at school drop-off, that’s nor­mal. If your eight-year-old does it, that’s not right. Look out for big changes in mood, be­hav­iour, eat­ing and sleep. Are they with­draw­ing from things they used to find en­joy­able? Are they be­com­ing more ag­gres­sive, or tear­ful?

DON’T BE TOO PRESCRIPTIVE

While it’s help­ful to glance around and look at your chil­dren’s peers to de­ter­mine age-ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour, it’s also worth not­ing that, just like they hit walk­ing and talk­ing mile­stones at dif­fer­ent times, they hit emo­tional mile­stones at dif­fer­ent times, too. So take your child into ac­count. If they have never liked sport, they may be with­drawn at sports day. How­ever, if they’ve al­ways loved sport and then they be­gin to with­draw from it, that’s some­thing to look out for. An abil­ity to form and de­velop re­la­tion­ships and a well-de­vel­oped sense of right and wrong is a marker for good men­tal health, as is be­ing able to with­stand some psy­cho­log­i­cal stress.

WRITE THINGS DOWN

If you de­cide to see your GP, which you can do alone or with your child, ar­rive with a list. Many par­ents go to their GP at the end of their tether and feel­ing tear­ful, and may be dis­missed as over-anx­ious. Make a list of what hap­pens, when it hap­pens, how long it’s been hap­pen­ing and how it ef­fects your day-to-day lives. Quan­tify things to make a case. Schools can also re­fer your child or strengthen your case with a GP, if you need it.

Call the Young­Minds Par­ents Helpline on 0808 802 5544, or visit young­minds.org.uk

To make a do­na­tion to this year’s Tele­graph Char­ity Ap­peal, please see the panel on page 2

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