It’s good to see a growing recognition of the importance of mental health in general and particularly in young people at the moment – it’s a topic that’s been stigmatised or consigned to the side lines for far too long – it’s not quite as measurable as GCSEs or attendance. However we ignore it at our peril, especially when it concerns our children.
As I write, there is a lot of concern being raised about the rise in mental health problems and the limits to the resources available for young people. Whilst we could debate whether the number has increased due to things getting worse or awareness getting better the facts are this – many children and young people are experiencing mental ill health and the resources to deal with them are currently not meeting demand.
The big question is what can we do about this?
Changes in government policy or NHS services are great, but as a mum to a 3 and 5 year old waiting for things to change is way too passive. I want to know what I can do. Why are kids so stressed and what can I do about this, for my children and the wider community?
In the same way with physical health we can do everything “right” – vaccinations, exercise, healthy diet and still get unwell, such is the case with mental health. I don’t believe there’s any way to guarantee mentally healthy children any more than we can guarantee physically healthy ones (if only). However, I would argue that there is plenty we can do as parents to reduce the risks and likelihood or to ensure that we are best equipped to deal with issues should they arise.
So how do we do this?
If you’re looking for easy answers stop reading now.
I’d love to say I’ve got some, but in actual fact I’ve got some challenging questions instead (sorry). I work parents because I truly believe that as mums and dads we are in a unique position to equip and prepare our children for the rest of their lives . What job will we ever do that’s more significant than that?
Here’s some questions to help you. It’s easy to skim read over them, but these require us to delve deep. As a parent you are the expert in your child I’d encourage you take confidence from that. As you explore these, you will undoubtedly find you do so much already that is so helpful to your child as well as finding fresh thoughts to guide you as to what else may be beneficial:
1. What does the world look like from your child’s point of view?
What do they feel about home? School? Friends? What they see on the news? What the future looks like? Finances? What’s their definition of success? Are they an introvert or extrovert? What do they believe is expected of them?
2. How much does your child have permission to be themselves?
How relaxed and carefree are they? How are they labelled by others? How easy is it for them to express big emotions and feel safe to do so? How much does your child feel like a round peg in a square hole? What do they need to ensure they know that they are loved unconditionally and accepted no matter what?
3. What messages is your child receiving about what’s important in life and how can you manage those?
What messages do they get from school? What messages are their peers or social media sending them? What do they need to know from you? What do they see from your actions and choices about what’s important? Whether it’s home, school, society or peers there’s lots of messages and expectations. Whilst we can’t wrap our children up in cotton wool, we can help manage these and teach our children how to respond to them – one of my biggest concerns within in the school system at present are the leanings towards presenteeism over quality, homework over rest and a move away from creative and practical subjects.
4. When are you doing things because it’s expected of you rather than because you believe it is the right thing for your child?
Whether it’s work, school, homework or social pressures there’s plenty of situations where we can end up doing things that aren’t right and over time potentially diminish our family’s mental health if not closely monitored. I don’t do homework with my 5 year old (even though I feel torn by this and it puts me at odds with the school) because I truly believe the rest and play she has after school is more important.
5. How easy is it for your child to be heard?
How much are they able to communicate their troubles, not just at home, but in other situations too? How much are those around them able to hear? What is their current behaviour telling you? How do they find it best to communicate? When are the opportunities for them to feel safe and talk? What do you need as a parent to help you create that space to talk and listen?
6. How are you equipping yourself and your child to thrive rather than survive emotionally?
What do you need to know to help you? Who is your support network? How are you teaching your child to be more resilient? How do you skill yourself and ensure you have the knowledge and understanding you need to handle the challenges of raising a child? Who helps you get unstuck?
It’s hard to ask for help as a parent and even harder to find time and resources to put towards paying for help when there are so many other demands upon us. Sometimes we still labour under the crazy notion that we should know what we’re doing without any training or manual, but this job is too important not to do well.
We need to consider how we can create space to think, reflect and equip ourselves to be the best parents we can be to our children because our children’s health and wellbeing as well as our own health and wellbeing is too precious to leave to chance or good luck.
If you have any thoughts on this article or you’d like to know more about how I work with parents to help them find reassurance and get unstuck please get in touch via text, phone or email.
07745 448871 firstname.lastname@example.org