Helping my child
Your child may be unable to explain why they feel the way they do. Asking why can add to a sense of guilt: the feeling that they don’t deserve to feel this way. A gentler exploration of what may have contributed to it can be helpful.
Above all, reassuring them that they are loved and valued, and that you will be there for them, will be a great help.
As a family member or friend, trust your instincts. If your concern is growing, don’t ignore your concerns. Speak to your GP, to CAMHS or contact one of the organisations listed in the Get support section of this website.
If help is needed urgently, find out what to do in a crisis.
- If your child is finding it difficult to talk, give them time.
- Let them know that you are there for them and always happy to listen and support them.
- It might be helpful to ask if they have any ideas about what might help.
- There may be someone else that they could talk to or a support service that could help.
- Take things slowly and gently: asking lots of questions may be unhelpful.
Frequently asked questions
These FAQs have been suggested by parents and carers in our service. We’ve worked together to put this information together for you.
How do I understand my child?
Every child is different. Understanding your child can seem like a challenge at times.
Listening to what they have to say and trying to be empathetic of how they are feeling is the best thing to do.
You should try not to undermine or brush off how they are feeling as this may make them feel like you don’t understand how they are feeling or what they are saying.
How do I know if it is them just being a teenager or if it’s more?
Sometimes teenagers do want to spend more time in their room, or not want to eat with the family, so it can be tricky not reading into it.
If you notice that there has been a change in your child’s mood or behaviours and it’s affecting their day-to-day life, consider speaking to school to see if they’ve had similar concerns, or give us a call to get some advice over the phone.
Examples may include:
- not going to school or college
- change of eating patterns
- isolating themselves from peers/family
- not taking care of their appearance
Speaking about mental health as a family is important and can help to reassure your child that they are able to share their worries or concerns if they need to.
What’s the best thing to say or not to say?
Knowing what or what not to say depends on the condition and also the child.
For example: young people with eating disorders may find comments about their appearance or weight upsetting.
Depending on the child, some young people may not like any comments about their mental health being made. However, it does depend specifically on how well your child is coping with their mental health and how much they have come to terms with their condition.
Having a conversation with your child about what they feel is acceptable and what comments they would like to be avoided may be a good way to help yourself and your child in these situations.
What’s the best thing to say when they’re calmer?
Depending on the child, you may feel that a conversation is needed to discuss what caused the distress, and what could be done to avoid or contain distress when it begins.
Some children may not want to talk specifically about the situation that had occurred. If this is the case, offer to make them a favourite drink or food, and try to make the situation and surroundings as comfortable as possible. For example
- Watch their favourite movie together.
- Bring them something that’s going to be of comfort to them.
- Offer them their favourite food or drink.
For more ideas look up ideas around self-soothing.
What’s the best thing to say when your child is in serious distress?
Depending on your child, it may be a good idea to put a plan in place together for when your child is in distress. This can include what they feel is the best thing for you to do or say.
If you don’t have a plan in place, then try and calm your child down, using a soothing voice. Keep talking to them and keep them alert and in the space with you.
It’s very common for children in distress to disassociate themselves from the situation.
Depending on the child and the situation, you could try given them a hug; studies have shown that when someone in distress is close to someone who is calm, it helps them to calm down.
How do I protect my child from online forums or peer influence?
With online forums and peer influence, there is only so much you can do to stop this situation. At the end of it all, the child is responsible for their actions. However there are a few steps you can do at home to restrict access.
- Put restrictions on websites that contain ideas on self-destructive behaviours
- Have a chat with your child about the damage that these websites can cause and also around peer influence.
- Try and talk to them about the people who are trying to influence them, and discuss the danger that this puts them in and the possible consequences.
My child won’t talk to me, how do I know what’s going on?
Communication around mental health can be hard for both young people and parents.
If your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking face to face about what is going on, then consider looking at other forms of communication. For example:
- Text messaging
- Video explaining how they are feeling
- Private blog
- Speaking to another trusted adult who can communicate between the both of you
- Looking for warning signs: such as a dramatic weight loss, self-harm, or general lack or personal care.
What are the dos and do nots for helping someone with mental health issues?
- Listen. Simply giving someone space to talk, and listening to how they’re feeling, can be really helpful in itself. If they’re finding it difficult, let them know that you’re there when they are ready.
- Offer reassurance. Seeking help can feel lonely, and sometimes scary. You can reassure someone by letting them know that they are not alone, and that you will be there to help.
- Stay calm. Even though it might be upsetting to hear that someone you care about is distressed, try to stay calm. This will help your friend or family member feel calmer too, and show them that they can talk to you openly without upsetting you.
- Be patient. You might want to know more details about their thoughts and feelings, or want them to get help immediately. But it’s important to let them set the pace for seeking support themselves.
- Try not to make assumptions. Your perspective might be useful to your friend or family member, but try not to assume that you already know what may have caused their feelings, or what will help.
- Keep social contact. Part of the emotional support you offer could be to keep things as normal as possible. This could include involving your friend or family member in social events, or chatting about other parts of your lives.
- Learn more about the problem they experience, to help you think about other ways you could support them. Our website provides lots of information about different types of mental health problems, including pages on what friends and family can do to help in each case.
What’s the difference between all of the people helping my child?
You can read more here about the roles of the different members of the team at CAMHS and what they all do in their day to day job.
Can CAMHS work with a private therapist?
CAMHS can work with a private therapist your child may already be seeing, with your consent, to support their care. Let CAMHS know if they are seeing one. To find out more, download our helpful information sheet.
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Page last reviewed: 8 March, 2023