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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
Monday 1st February was the first day of Children’s Mental Health Week and it would seem that in these extraordinary times we should all be more vigilant about children’s emotional wellbeing and mental health.
Recent figures suggest that one in six young people are managing some kind of mental health issue. My colleagues and I regularly discuss the increasing number of children and young people being referred to us for counselling and this has been happening over a number of years. Anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation are frequently brought to us by young people as part of their difficulties. Life can be very challenging at times and some events can trigger quite a severe emotional reaction; divorce, family breakdown and bereavement being some of the main causes.
Alongside these crisis points, our pace of life is such that many children and young people don’t get the time to recognise and process their emotions. Adolescence is a time of conflicting emotions, a time when there can be confusion about identity and a natural desire to move away from family. It can be easy for parents to just let their teen grunt at them occasionally and then go and hide in their bedrooms for long periods, they will be resistant to communicating but that doesn’t mean parents should stop trying to talk to them.
If the family have been affected by the loss of a loved one or family breakdown, emotions will be running high and family members may well be consumed by their own sadness and grief, that is completely understandable. However, I do believe as parents we have a responsibility to model to our children that it is ok to talk about our emotions and to say we are not ok sometimes. Sharing our feelings with someone we trust can help prevent us from internalising negative stuff which can result in maladaptive behaviours.
If your teenager says “I’m fine” when you think they may not be, please do ask them again and give them the opportunity to chat. The intensity of sitting opposite each other to talk, might just be too much for an adolescent, so car journeys can be a good time to talk but there are not many places to drive to at the moment! Text messaging can be useful even if it’s just from another room in the house.
If there are concerns about a younger child, who may not always be able to verbalise their emotions, this can be challenging. Being a little creative can encourage children to begin to start speaking, using drawing, playdoh and toys in a playful way can relax them and get them talking.
If a parent has concerns about their child’s mental health it is worth contacting their school to see if they can offer any pastoral support and/or counselling. Many children’s parents separate and divorce and schools are very aware of the emotional fallout for children when families breakdown and have mechanisms in place to offer support.
There are a variety of online organisations available who can offer support and advice to young people who are struggling with their mental health.
If you are worried about the safety of your child and believe them to be at risk, please do contact your GP or in an emergency your local A & E department.
If you are a family going through separation and divorce Brethertons family team are available to answer any questions you might have and can also offer emotional support for parents and their families. Please call 01788 579579 or email me firstname.lastname@example.org