Your child has been diagnosed with a mental health condition. What do you do next?
As awareness of mental health issues in children and adolescents is increasing, more young people are accessing services and receiving diagnoses. But what happens next? Parenting support is vital for a child’s recovery, but it can be difficult at times to know how to support. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and strategies will depend on the individual child and issues, there are some general approaches that tend to be helpful.
- Create opportunities for connection and communication
While your child may struggle to communicate with you, it is important to continue to provide opportunities for them to do so. Invite them to spend time with you doing things they enjoy or healthy activities such as exercise or spending time with family friends. If they are resistant, try scaling down the activity such as a quick walk to the shops or even offer to drive them to an engagement – reduced eye contact in activities can feel more comfortable. Use 1:1 time to check in with how they are going, but don’t force the conversation if they don’t want to engage. Simply let your child know that you’re there to support them and that they can come to you at any time.
- Listen openly and validate their feelings
When your child does share with you, really listen to what they have to say. Focus on understanding things from their perspective and name and validate their feelings. Remember that even if their thoughts and feelings seem irrational, this is not the time to correct them or minimise their experience. Only offer your assistance with problem solving once they feel fully heard.
- Create a safe environment
Stress and change in the family environment can impact on the child. Maintain regular routines such as bedtimes to help make their environment predictable. Use calendars to mark activities and upcoming changes such as a parent travelling overseas. While supporting a child with mental health issues can be very stressful, it is important that parents can present a calm front in dealing with issues and that arguments are limited in front of the child. If you find that the process of supporting your child is impacting on your own health or relationships, seek your own support. Your child will benefit from seeing their parents model self-care and healthy emotion regulation.
- Create a support team
Remember that you don’t have to carry this on your own. It is important that all the supporting adults in the child’s life can communicate and work together to support your child. This may include school teachers and counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and parents.
DClinPsych/MSc, BPsych (Hons)
Registered Clinical Psychologist