Minding Your Child’s Mental Health

photo of man and teen boy sitting and talking

As a parent, you do your best to take care of your child. You make sure your child’s physical needs are met – nutritious food, a safe home, a proper education. But meeting your child’s mental, and emotional needs may not be as obvious. Good mental health helps children to think clearly, develop socially, and learn new skills. Physical and mental health are important factors when it comes to your child’s success in life. 

How do you make sure your child remains mentally healthy?  

  • Promote good mental health by the things you say and do, and through the environment you create at home
  • Help children build strong, caring relationships
  • Show your children how to solve problems
  • Help children and youth develop self-esteem so that they feel good about themselves
  • Listen, and respect their feelings
  • Learn about the early signs of mental health problems and know where to go for help.

It is important to remember that changes in your child’s mood and behavior are normal parts of growing up. You know your child better than anyone, but it can sometimes be difficult to know the difference between normal behavior and potential mental health concerns. No one expects you to be an expert in mental health but there are things you might notice that could indicate that extra support is needed.

Notice changes

There might be changes in your child’s emotions, behavior, and thinking that indicate they may need some extra help. You might notice:

  • Feelings of fear, anger, anxiety and sadness 
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or too much sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Negative thoughts that won’t go away

Talk to your child

It can be hard to talk about mental health. You might be worried that you will upset your child or even make things worse. There is not a perfect way to start the conversation. What you say will depend on your child’s age and their understanding. Try to use “I” statements like these:

  • I’ve noticed that you seem to have a lot on your mind lately. I’m happy to talk or listen and see if I can help.
  • It seems like you [haven’t been yourself lately/have been up and down], how are things?
  • You seem [anxious/sad], what is happening for you? We can work it out together.
  • It’s ok if you don’t want to talk to me, you could talk to [trusted/known adult]. I will keep letting you know I love you and am concerned.

Once the conversation is started, use the following tips to engage your child:

  • Reassure them everything will be okay and that you’re glad they are talking to you
  • Acknowledge that talking about personal thoughts and feelings can be hard
  • Ask what they need from you (although they might not know what they need)
  • Let them know you will provide the support they need 

Get support

There are many ways to help your child achieve good mental health. Talk to your child’s doctor:

  • if the behaviors described above last a while, or if they interfere with your child’s ability to function;
  • if you have concerns about your child’s emotional and mental health.

If your child or teen talks about suicide or harming themselves, call your doctor or local mental health crisis line right away.

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