Open Up About Children’s Mental Health | Living North

Open Up About Children’s Mental Health

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Dreamstime Young girl distressed
This week marks Children’s Mental Health Week, with this year’s theme being to encourage children to be healthy inside and out
Make sure your child knows that some level of stress is perfectly normal in life – that stress affects everybody, and we all have to find ways of coping

Most adults think back on their childhood as being the happiest time of their life, but time can erase many things and a lot of us forget that being young can also be a very stressful time. With one in four young people experiencing depression before the age of 19, it has never been more important to be aware of the potential causes of stress in your child’s life.

The wellbeing experts at the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA) have revealed some of the common triggers of stress for you to be on the lookout for, as well as tips on supporting a child that may be experiencing stress.

COMMON CAUSES

School and homework
Many children feel the pressure to do well at school. The lessons they have to learn during the day, homework to be completed at night, and only a limited time for fun activities can all make a child feel overwhelmed.

Exams
Childline revealed that their service provided more than 3,000 counselling sessions during exam season in 2016–2017, 11 percent higher than in the previous two years. Young people don’t want to be seen as a failure or to disappoint their parents, and those who contacted Childline reported that exams often led to depression, anxiety, panic attacks and feelings of low self-esteem.

Making friends and peer pressure
When starting a new school, the pressure to make friends can be intense, with those who don’t find  social interactions easy feeling isolated. The pressure to fit in can also mean children may do things that they don’t feel entirely comfortable with.

Bullying
According to the NSPCC, more than 16,000 young people are absent from school due to bullying. If you think your child may be a victim of bullying, look out for these signs: becoming withdrawn and losing confidence; performing badly at school; not wanting to go to school; losing personal belongings; not eating or sleeping well; and having unexplained injuries, such as bruises.

World events
In today’s media-obsessed world, it’s impossible to shield your child from disturbing news like wars and natural disasters, and, as a result, children feel very anxious over their safety and that of their family and friends.

Family difficulties or changes 
From moving home to parents separating, changes to the family norm can be tough on a child and can cause significant signs of stress.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Make time for them
We’re all busy, but it’s critical to make the effort to spend more time than usual with your child if you think they’re worried about something. Make yourself available for fun activities, or just quality time at home, and ask them about their day, but don’t force them to discuss their worries – they’ll open up when they feel comfortable.

Encourage healthy sleep
Getting the right amount of sleep can help children become more resilient to stress. The number of hours they need vary according to their age, and you can find out how many hours your child should be getting on the NHS website.

Provide healthy food
Good nutrition is also essential to boosting your child’s coping skills. Try to make sure they’re eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – even if they are resistant to the idea, there are plenty of ways to sneak them into their diet that you can find again on the NHS website.

Make stress normal
Make sure your child knows that some level of stress is perfectly normal in life – that stress affects everybody, and we all have to find ways of coping. Explaining that it’s okay to feel the way they do (and relating it to your own personal experiences and how you tackled them) can give them the confidence they need to manage their own stress levels.

Keep them active
Physical activity can help both children and adults manage stress, so make sure they’re getting plenty of exercise. You can also try mindful relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises. Children learn by example, so try to be a positive role model in this respect and they will follow in your footsteps.

If you think your child might be depressed, don’t try to handle it on your own – make an appointment to see their GP, who can refer them for specialist help if necessary. 

Published in: February 2019

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