Thanks to the Royal family, mental health has been in the news a great deal lately and Young Minds, the country’s leading charity for mental health issues in young people has called on Theresa May to make a manifesto commitment to address a "mental health crisis” in classrooms. According to the charity, 3 children in every classroom will have a mental health problem. That’s a scary statistic, and not something we can leave it up to the government or schools to deal with. What can we as parents do to help our children?
Arguably the most important thing we can do is to encourage our children to communicate, and without fear of judgement. That can often mean we have to hold our tongues as our children tell us things that frighten us about their lives or their thoughts, or that we have to quietly deal with the fact they would rather talk to someone else about their feelings. Either way, it’s important that they know they can talk to us if they need to, but that they not feel pressure to do so.
Talk about mental health. With so many of us, adults and children alike, having experienced mental health issues, it should no longer be kept a secret. By talking about it openly and honestly, we can help to break that stigma down so that our children are more willing to talk. That might mean talking about our own experiences, or chatting about it when it comes up in the news. Lately both Prince William and Prince Harry have been in the news talking about their own experiences, and this is a great way to start a discussion at home.
Learn coping techniques together. At this time of year exam stress can often pile onto whatever stresses and anxieties were already there. If we can help our children learn to cope with stress at this age, these coping techniques will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives. Learning together will help them to feel connected, and also that it’s not something that’s broken in them and must be fixed. Look out for mindfulness or meditation classes you can take together, or even just begin taking evening walks together after school.
Ask how they feel. It sounds silly, but it’s so easy for days or even weeks to pass without us actually asking the question, "how do you feel?” We might ask how school was, how a particular lesson went, how the homework is going - but that particular question is often way down the list. Even if the question is met with a grunt, at least it has been asked and the opening is there, should the child wish to talk about their feelings.
For many parents mental health can be a bit of a scary subject; we wouldn’t think twice about discussing a broken leg or an appendectomy, but we shy away from asking about depression or anxiety. It can be a hard subject to broach, but by doing so we can all play our part in breaking down that stigma and making it easier for our children to get help if they need it.