Talking to your child about mental and emotional health
Talking about mental and emotional health can sometimes be a challenging topic to broach with your teen, and sometimes they can be reluctant (or just plain refuse) to let you into their inner world.
However, we encourage you to persevere! During the often overwhelming teens years, and especially as they begin to step into big life changes such as graduating, starting uni or a new job, and forming new friendship groups, it is important to be checking in with your teen and ensure they receive the support they may need. On top of this time of increased independence, as if that’s not enough to handle, this year has also bought added pressures that may have given you further cause for concern about your child’s mental health.
So, the big question remains: how can you address concerns you may have about your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing without encroaching on their sense of independence and privacy?
Let us help with some tips we have learnt over 23 years of working with young people.
The trick is to address concerns you may have about your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing without encroaching on their sense of independence and privacy.
Beyondblue, a mental health organisation, provides some helpful advice on signs to look for if you think your teen is struggling to manage their mental health. While all teens go through phases of changed behaviour, and can tend to withdraw as they process transitions, there is specific behaviour that parents can watch for if they are concerned:
1. Notice if your teen’s behaviour has changed: are they no longer engaging in activities they once enjoyed?
2. Be aware of changes in your teen’s routine: are they sleeping more or less, or has their appetite changed?
3. Be aware of your teen’s social interactions: are they socialising less or withdrawing from friends and family?
4. Notice any physical or emotional pain your teen may be experiencing, such as soreness in their body or frequent tearfulness.
Have a Chat
When talking with your teen, it can be easy to begin giving them advice about how to deal with the struggles they are facing- or even encouraging them that it isn’t as big of a deal as they feel it is. But for your teen, it may feel like a very big deal, and they may be opening up to you to have a listening ear.
Here are 5 tips for talking to your teen about their mental health:
1. As you begin the conversation with them, ask them if they would like advice or simply just to talk out their concerns, and then engage with them accordingly.
2. As tempting as it can be to jump in and help them, be patient and listen to them as they express themselves (aka avoid interrupting!).
3. Remind your teen that you love them, regardless of the struggles or issues they may be dealing with.
4. Let your teen know that they have support from their family and friends and that you are a safe space for them to discuss whatever is on their mind.
5. Encourage your teen to see a professional if you believe it would be beneficial for them.
After chatting with your teen about their mental health, ensure you continue to support them in the areas they are struggling in. This can include taking them to see a GP or counsellor, reminding them they can come to you any time they want to chat, or encouraging them in making positive friendships with supportive friends and keeping healthy habits going, like exercising, eating well and taking up enjoyable hobbies. Also reach out to other parents and find out how they are supporting their teens. Just like your teen doesn’t need to struggle on their own, you don’t have to navigate supporting them alone either!
These are some great online and phone resources you can suggest to your teen if they would like to seek further support or information:
Kids Helpline- https://www.kidshelpline.com.au/teens