5 ways to support your child’s mental health
Experts offer advice on when to talk to your kids, how to do it—and when to get professional help.
By ALEXIS MILLAR
Parents know their children better than anyone else but when a mother or father notices sudden changes in their children’s sleeping and eating habits, or see that they are withdrawing from family and friends, it’s best to turn to the experts.
Wendy Hoglund, a University of Alberta associate professor of developmental science, and Kathleen O’Connor, a clinical psychologist with the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, both members of the university’s Women and Children’s Health Research Institute, offer five tips to help you better understand and support your child.
1. Have a conversation and truly listen.
Simply ask your child what’s going on. Listen to their concerns and worries. It will help you better understand their emotional state and let them know that you recognize how they feel is important. Kids don’t really necessarily need solutions right away. Just trying to find out what the problems are and acting as that “listening ear” is essential.
“Comfort them,” Hoglund advised. “That is typically the best thing. But also talk with other adults your child is exposed to. It might help give a more well-rounded picture of your child’s mental state.”
2. Don’t wait for them to “grow out of it.”
Each child has different needs and is at a different stage of development, so what may be normal for your child may be abnormal for another.
“Children show signs of anxiety or depression in different ways, so a child who does well academically could still be struggling in other areas and vice versa,” said Hoglund.
It’s important to talk to your child and determine if the problem they are experiencing needs action—or professional intervention—right away.
3. Put away electronics.
The number one piece of advice O’Connor has for parents who see her about their child’s mental health is to power down devices. That means everyone puts down their electronics for a period of time—even you.
She added that your child’s sense of self is constantly evolving and they are likely inundated with images of friends’ and peers’ glorified lives through social media. It’s impossible for them not to compare, which is a major way children develop their self-identity.
4. Find a balance.
It’s natural to want to protect your child from anything negative, but it’s impossible. Instead of concentrating only on what’s going wrong, work together to build on the positive. Find out what your child truly enjoys, focus on it and build their confidence.
“You could also share some of your own hardships and how you overcame them,” noted O’Connor. “The strategies that you developed may help your child develop their own.”
5. Get help if you need it.
It’s important to address your child’s mental health concerns early. If you need support, don’t be afraid to ask for help—perhaps from a teacher or school psychologist to start.
The researchers added there are plenty of other resources available for parents and children through Alberta Health Services, the Government of Alberta, Child Adolescent and Family Mental Health, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network.
Hoglund’s research has been supported by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI. O’Connor is a collaborator on The Breathe Study that is supported by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI.