What to do if you’re worried about your child’s mental health

Here at Oxford Owl, we know that children’s mental health is a very important issue, so we’ve teamed up with the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) to put together some advice about how you can support your child to cope with stress and anxiety, information about children’s mental health and some guidance about what to do if you are concerned about your child.

Anyone can be affected by a mental health problem, no matter your age or your circumstances. Last year one in every three of the 300,000 counselling sessions delivered by Childline was directly related to a mental health issue, highlighting how some young people in the UK are struggling with a problem that until recently was rarely talked about in public.

Why do some children experience mental health problems?

Growing up is hard, (and not just for the parents!) as children develop new and intense feelings they have never experienced before such as anger, embarrassment, and worry. At the same time they may be struggling at school with their learning and making friends while also being exposed to an online world where they are bombarded with images of physical perfection.

How can I support my child?

If you suspect your child is worried about school or struggling with their feelings, then the first step is to talk to them in a safe and secure environment about exactly how they feel.

Try to:

  • Make sure you set aside time to talk so there aren’t any distractions or time pressures.
  • Have realistic expectations about the conversation. It might not go as well as you’re hoping, but give it time. Your child might not be ready to talk straight away but could re-start the conversation with you a few days later.
  • Reassure your child that you are always there for them and they can always talk to you. Then if anything does upset or happen to them in the future they will feel more comfortable about coming to you and talking about their problems.
  • If they are reluctant to open up you can direct them to Childline, which is available around the clock.

As a parent, you can’t always protect your children from stress and feelings of anxiety — but you can help them develop healthy ways to cope with it. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Exercise
  • Find a hobby
  • Talk to friends or family
  • Help someone else
  • Eat good food
  • Try something new

How can I tell if I should be worried?

As children’s moods are prone to changing quickly – one day they may feel worried and anxious where the next they are full of confidence – it can be difficult for parents to work out whether their child’s change in emotions is a normal part of growing up or if it’s something more serious.

All children are different but some of the common signs of mental health problems in children include:

  • becoming withdrawn from friends and family
  • persistent low mood and unhappiness
  • tearfulness and irritability
  • worries that stop them from carrying out day to day tasks
  • sudden outbursts of anger directed at themselves or others
  • loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
  • problems eating or sleeping.

What should I do if I think my child needs help?

If you conclude that the problem requires medical support you should take your child to the family GP who will decide if and what professional treatment is required. If your child is having problems at school, a teacher, school nurse, school counsellor or educational psychologist may be able to help. These professionals will also be able to refer a child to receive further assessment and treatment from local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

If you’re worried about a child’s mental health, even if you’re unsure, contact our professional NSPCC counsellors 24/7 for help, advice and support. Call us on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk

Children and young people who wish to talk to Childline about anything that is concerning them can do so in confidence online, on the phone, anytime at: www.childline.org.uk or 0800 1111.

Useful links

  • NSPCC’s advice about children’s mental health
  • NHS: What to do if you think your child is depressed
  • NHS: Talking to your child about feelings