Looking after our mental health is important at all stages of life. For children, the adults in their lives have a huge role to play in encouraging conversations about mental health and helping to support them learn to manage their feelings and emotions.
Children’s Mental Health Week returns this week with the aim to empower children and young people to say ‘my voice matters’ so they have the tools and confidence to express themselves.
It can be difficult to know where to start, but helping the child or young person feel seen and understood can make a huge difference to boost their mental wellbeing.
Here are some tips for getting a child or young person to open up about their feelings so you can help support their mental health.
- Do an activity while having a chat. This will help to take the pressure off the conversation and will help the child to open up as they do not have to worry about making eye contact. Find something you both enjoy doing together, such as baking or playing a game. Even having a chat in the car or on a walk can be useful, as the pressure of talking face-to-face is taken away.
- You might be worried about starting the conversation as you may struggle to know what to say. Start by asking them the best and worst bit of their day; check in with how they are feeling and if there is anything they would like to talk about.
- If you find out they are struggling with something in particular, ask them how they would like you to support them. Do they want space, or want to talk about it further?
- If they do not want to talk, reassure them they can talk to you anytime or ask if there is another person they feel like they could speak to.
- If they find it easier to write their thoughts, you could ask them to write a letter or a text.
- It is important to reassure them that their feelings are valid. Be sure to thank them for opening up and remind them that you are there to support them and they can talk to you whenever they need it.
James Reeley, Senior Operational Manager for Specialist CAMHS at Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “We all have mental health in the same way we all have physical health; the emotional aches and pains sometimes need some attention to help for them to become less of an injury and sometimes they just need acknowledging when they are there.
“Children are incredibly resilient and have a tremendous capacity to thrive in their lives and fill their potential. Sometimes they may need some extra support, nurture or guidance from the safe grown-ups in their lives. Sometimes, as those grown-ups, we can feel overwhelmed with worry that we might be enough if there is a big event or persistent problem in the children’s life.
“The best support and help that children can have is learning that their thoughts, feelings, worries and excitement are reasonable, normal and valid. We can do this through moments where we set out to listen and check in, or through sharing excitement at their interests and concern at their troubles.
“All of this supports children to maintain or recover their mental health regardless of whether something more like a specialist therapist is also needed.”