How parents can help their children with mental health issues

It used to be believed that children didn’t really get mental health problems, or at least not the same ones as adults. Now we know better, but that doesn’t make things any easier to cope with when your child’s affected. Often parents in this situation feel very isolated and helpless. It’s important to realize that there are things you can do to help.

Common mental health problems faced by children

Although children can experience the full range of mental health problems, some types are more common in them than in adults. Eating disorders like anorexia and concentration problems like ADHD can be a particular problem, and children with learning and developmental disorders may struggle more than adults because they haven’t yet learned techniques for coping with them. Anxiety disorders in children can take distinctive forms, compounded by experiences of bullying or simple lack of autonomy.

Thinking about therapy?

Often talking therapy is the most effective way to help children with problems like this. It’s important to find a therapist experienced in working with children, and it often helps to have some sessions as a family and some for the child alone. Often a therapist will be able to offer useful advice on how you can improve communication as a family to hasten your child’s recovery. Another great form of therapy is actually allowing them to ‘act out’. Not to let them completely misbehave, but to try acting as an outlet. For children with ADHD this could be a great opportunity to learn how to take direction, interact with other children, and use their creativity in a constructive manner.

Medical options

Prescribing drugs for children with mental health problems is controversial and many parents feel uncomfortable about it, but if other approaches fail, sometimes it can make a positive difference. If medication is proposed as the best option for your child, make sure you have a clear understanding of how and when it should be taken, and what the side effects might be. You will need to monitor your child’s progress very carefully, especially with mental health problems that can affect his or her own ability to recognize symptoms.

Getting away from it all

Where mental health is being made worse by local stressors such as a bad school environment, taking a holiday can make things a lot better. If a longer-term break is needed, it’s worth considering places like Newport Academy, where your child can keep up with studies and receive therapy at the same time. He or she will be in the company of other children experiencing similar problems, and watching other children learn to cope can really boost confidence.

The importance of listening

Whatever you try and do to help your child, it’s important to remember that there are no textbook solutions. Every child has different needs and metal health problems can affect individuals in very different ways, so even if there’s a family history of problems, don’t assume this means you know what your child is going through. It’s important to talk, to ask gentle questions without pressure, and to listen to what your child has to say.

People have a much better understanding of mental health problems today than they used to, and there are some good support services out there, but living with a problem like this can still be exhausting. The single most important thing you can do is to be there to provide unconditional love and believe in your child’s capacity to live a fulfilling life.