How to talk to your child about mental health, even at primary school

Boy at desk

Photo: George Plemper

Children’s mental health charity Place2Be offers advice to parents on helping their children if they have mental health concerns

Did you know that, on average, three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health issue?

We hear a lot about teenagers and mental health, but younger children are also affected. The children’s mental health charity, Place2Be raises awareness of the benefits of talking openly with young children about their feelings and getting help. These are their top tips for parents.

It’s always the right time

It’s never too early (or too late) to start thinking about your child’s mental health. As a parent, you have a hugely important role in helping them to develop their ability to cope with life’s challenges. 

Look for changes

Children are often referred for support by their teachers, who spot concerning behaviour in class. You can look out for behaviour that’s out of character, such as becoming very withdrawn and uncommunicative, or lashing out, becoming boisterous or aggressive. It’s easy to get frustrated or cross when your child behaves in a way that upsets you, but think about what factors could be behind the behaviour.

Choose the right environment

Try to talk to your child directly about what’s bothering them. Young children may not always have the words to express their feelings, but try to find a way of bringing up the conversation without putting pressure on them, perhaps during a car journey or, for younger children, when you’re playing with them. This can help them to open up naturally.

Listen

One of the most powerful tools that Place2Be has is simply its ability to provide a safe, consistent space where the child knows they will be listened to for around an hour each week. With all the pressures on modern-day parents, it’s all too easy to become distracted. Make sure you carve out time to be with your child one-to-one, when you can very deliberately commit to putting other worries to one side.

The role of play

Through play, children learn about themselves, their environment, people and the world around them. For younger children, who sometimes don’t have the words to describe their emotions, play can be very useful route to understanding how they’re feeling and helping them express themselves.

‘Encourage them to tell their story’

Enjoying a quiet activity, such as an art project, with your child, is an opportunity to encourage them to tell their story and talk through what they’re doing. 

Modern life is so hectic that it can be difficult to make the time to sit down quietly and reflectively with your child. But putting other distractions aside and finding dedicated time listening and playing makes everyone feel happier.

Further reading

You can find more ideas and tips on the Place2Be website

 

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.

First published: February 2015

Updated: ​May 2018

 

 

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