In society there tends to be a lot of focus on providing the best care for a child’s physical health. What foods are best, the importance of sports and activities, and the education on both healthy eating and exercise are vastly promoted by schools, corporations, celebrities, influencers, and more. In recent years there has been a shift in the education behind general health, and we are seeing a higher focus on mental health. This is a major step forward for educators and parents, but we’ve only just scratched the surface as a society when it comes to tackling this topic. In this blog, we discuss children and their mental health, and how to provide support.
CHILDREN & MENTAL HEALTH
Parenting and caregiving is not easy! From the moment a child enters our life, it is as if we are being challenged each and every day. From babies to teenagers, the challenges transition but do not get any easier. Just as adults, children can be complicated! We want the best for our children, but when it comes to mental health, it may be hard to navigate how to understand and support them.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “approximately 1 in 5 children and youth in Ontario has a mental health challenge. About 70% of mental health challenges have their onset in childhood or youth.” (CMHA). That statistic may be shocking, but it may not come as a surprise for many parents and caregivers who have been struggling to help their child weather difficult times.
Children experience many ups and downs while growing up, and their behaviour may seem erratic, but that may just be a normal reaction to what is happening in their lives. Some children may become quieter, want to spend more time alone, may become angry, or even start to receive lower grades in school. These may just signs that children are growing and learning, but if you are wondering if your child is in need of greater support, it is good to note any major changes in their behaviour. Follow your intuition when it comes to your children, if they have suddenly started to change their behaviour in an intense way, this may be an early warning sign of a mental illness, especially when the behaviour is persisting over a longer period of time. If your child is acting out in inappropriate ways, this may also be another sign to watch for. Some common disorders for children include extreme anxiety, attention-deficit disorder (ADHD), depression and eating disorders.
HOW TO PROVIDE SUPPORT
If your child is going through a difficult time in their life, or they are experiencing something more serious, there are many ways to show your support. Reaching out may not always work right away, but is it important to keep communication consistent and keep an open mind when speaking with your child. The last thing they want to feel is judged or rejected in some way by their loved ones.
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, start by sitting them down or taking them for a nice walk where you can’t be interrupted by distractions. Simply asking them what is going on in their life or if something is bothering them may be the start of a great conversation for you both. Some children aren’t as willing to express what is happening in their life, so just being there for them and talking about a topic they are comfortable with can ease them into talking about more serious challenges they are facing. Remember to be an open-minded listener so as not to intimidate or scare them into not wanting to share. They may forget that you were also once a child and faced your own challenges, so bringing up your own experiences may help them understand that you are there for them.
Your child may not be so willing to talk to you about their life, and if you are persistent with asking, they may start to close themselves off from you and distance themselves. Be mindful of how often you may be “nagging” them, and give them some space. Let them know that you are available to talk, or you are willing to find someone who they can talk to so they feel more comfortable about receiving help.
If you feel that you have kept communication open, given them space, provided them options and you are still struggling to support them, there is always professional help. Counselling is a great neutral and non-judgemental space where families and children can share their concerns. Reach out to a trusted professional and seek their counsel on how to best approach your child regarding their mental health. They may also be able to provide you with how to breach the topic of seeking counselling.
Parenting and caregiving is not easy, and neither is experiencing the ups and downs of growing up. Not only is the mental health of your child important, but the mental health of parents, and other children in the household can affect the whole family. If you would like to discuss childhood mental health disorders, or family dynamics with our team or talk to a professional for more information, please contact us HERE.