Parenting and your child’s mental health
Understanding how best to help your child’s mental wellbeing
As we all know, there’s no definitive guidebook on how to be a good parent. That includes the large responsibility of taking care of your child’s mental health. While society at large promotes the many joys of parenthood, people typically feel less inclined to speak honestly about the many challenges that form part of this lifelong journey.
Maintaining high-pressure careers, running a household, attending to the needs of young children and being a good partner to your significant other can often lead people to points of unmanageable stress and burnout. Reaching out for help is, quite simply, the best way through.
At The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, our specialist consultants are here to help with a wide range of issues – for both parents and children. We see many new mothers, for example, who are overwhelmed by the changes that motherhood brings to their lives. Did you know that 10-30% of new mothers experience some kind of mental health imbalance in terms of mood changes, increased stress, mild depressive tendencies and PTSD? Fathers also experience great changes – a recent study found that 38% of first-time fathers experience mental health concerns.
While not all children of parents who experience mental health issues are at risk of developing their own mental health problems down the track, very often, children do become entangled in unhealthy family dynamics that have developed over the years due to unmanageable stress. As children grow up, they may find it difficult to share their feelings openly with their parents. And with all the daily changes children experience during their journey into young adulthood, it’s important to know how to help your child have the best possible mental wellbeing.
Changes in your child – things to watch out for
While it’s perfectly normal for children to open up more to their friends at certain stages of their development, there are things you can watch out for, which may require professional assistance:
- a noticeable change in school performance
- persistent nightmares, or changes in sleep patterns
- no change in behaviour after punishment
- loss of appetite, or changes in weight
- extreme hyperactivity
- excessive fear, worrying or crying
- excessive temper tantrums
- persistent difficulty in separating from a parent
It’s just as important to keep an eye on young adults too
Adolescents can be especially tricky to communicate with – many parents know that as soon as their child hits their teenage years, they’d be lucky to connect for longer periods of time, as they once did during their childhood. Here are some of the warning signs to watch out for:
- mood instability
- fatigue, insomnia or hyper-insomnia
- self-harm/discussion of suicide
- substance abuse
- social isolation
- panic attacks
Child psychologists v child psychiatrists – what’s the difference?
A child psychologist’s aim is to help your child develop his/her own problem-solving skills, self-confidence and coping mechanisms. They are typically qualified with degrees in psychology (from undergraduate through to PhD level), which generally include biology, social and physical sciences along with studies into a wide range of psychological and therapeutic techniques. They may work with the child on his/her own, with a parent or with the family as a whole, depending on the issue at hand.
A child psychiatrist is a medically trained professional and licenced physician. Due to their medical training, which can take up to 10 years to complete, child psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications in addition to working with children through psychological and therapeutic techniques.
Who should I consult?
It depends on the issue you’re facing at the time. At The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, our highly qualified and experienced clinicians will work with you to determine the best possible course of action. This may include various treatment plans that require the assistance of one specialist, to a combination of specialists tailored to your situation. Our clinical services that focus specifically on children cover the full range of mental health issues, from simple anxiety through to complex behavioural difficulties.
How should I discuss the prospect of therapy with my child?
As Dr Janine King, one of our leading child therapists, explains, it’s important to let your child know that you’re both going to a relaxed environment just to have a friendly chat. There’s no pressure, and this doesn’t have to be an on-going thing.
In fact, you can see what Dr Janine has to say on this question in this video.
While it’s difficult to make any firm diagnosis after just one consultation, to help your child stay relaxed, it’s important they know that everyone involved is taking things one small step at a time. Building a picture of an individual’s life and all the family dynamics involved takes time – and equally, we understand that it may take time to get your family members to come to sessions like these.
What can I do to encourage my child to come to therapy?
Again, as Dr Janine King explains, it’s simply a matter of telling your child that a meeting at the clinic is just a friendly one-off chat. It’s simply people sitting in a room, sharing their thoughts and feelings on everyday life. There’s no pressure to keep attending sessions and ‘nothing will be done to them’ – which might sound strange to say, however, for a child who’s worried about the unknown, these important points need to be communicated.
If you would like to discuss any issues in relation to parenting and/or your child, please do contact us for a confidential chat.