Dr Julia Clements, Principal Educational Psychologist, Place2Be
This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, organised by leading charity Place2Be. The week, which was founded in 2015, aims to equip, empower and give a voice to children across the UK. Each year, Place2Be create resources and share advice to help schools and families to have important conversations with children and young people about their mental health.
Parent-carers play an important role in children’s mental health, so in this blog to mark the week, Place2Be’s Principal Educational Psychologist, Dr Julia Clements, shares some simple tips and advice for parents and carers supporting their children’s mental health.
Be available to listen
Family life can be busy, but it’s important to find some time to connect with your child and check in with how they are feeling. This does not have to be a ‘big’ conversation, but a chat over dinner, when you’re in the car together, or during a walk. Try to listen attentively to what your child is saying and don’t be tempted to dole out too much advice or opinions – children often just need to feel heard.
Fresh air, natural light and exercise can have a positive effect on mental health. Plan some family time outside. This could be a walk, going out on bikes or a trip to a park. Being physically active can help improve mood, reduce anxiety and can serve as a valuable break from screen time.
Encourage a good sleep routine
Sleep is vital for mental health. If you are living with a teenager it can be hard to get them to go to bed at a decent time, and they often want to stay in bed later than adults. This is because teenagers have a different circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) from adults. Encourage a ‘digital sunset’ where everyone in the house stops using devices an hour before bed. Also, encourage good habits, such as avoiding caffeine in the afternoon/evening and setting an alarm which indicates when it’s time to start their bed time routine.
Build in ‘down-time’
Having some down-time is important for mental health – school life is very busy, and if your child is involved in lots of extra-curricular activities they may find it difficult to switch off and relax. Make sure there is time in their schedule for things your child finds relaxing – even if it seems to you like they are ‘doing nothing’.
Take the pressure off
Children and young people often worry about schoolwork, homework and exams. Whilst it is good to encourage good study habits and celebrate successes, make sure your child knows they are loved and valued for who they are and not just what they achieve.
Be a good role model
Children don’t need their parents or carers to be perfect! They will take their cues from you around how to deal with life’s ups and downs so you have the opportunity to role model positive ways of coping. This could include naming your feelings (e.g. ‘I’m pretty stressed after the day I’ve had’) and then using a healthy coping strategy (e.g. ‘I’m going to talk the dog for a walk to clear my head’).
Need extra support?
If you or your children are struggling, it’s important to talk to someone – a friend, family member, staff member at your children’s school or your GP. You can also find details of organisations that can provide immediate support here.