As parents and carers, it can be hard to know whether your child’s feelings and behaviour are normal or becoming a problem. This is especially so during adolescence when young people can feel a great deal of pressure and increasingly want to loosen their family ties.
Young people’s need for independence is partly due to changes in brain development. This makes reading and understanding others more difficult than when they were younger. This can leave parents feeling that young people are in a world of their own, when actually they can be struggling to understand themselves and others.
A roller coaster of changing emotions and feelings that come and go is completely normal at this age. Feelings and moods that become a problem are those which last a long time, become overwhelming, and stop your child from doing what they want to in their lives.
We know that having strong relationships lies at the heart of good mental health. As parents and carers, we also have our own stresses such as money, job security and juggling family demands. These can put pressure on our capacity to respond sensitively to our children.
Talking can be a helpful way for young people to manage their well-being as it helps them to make sense of and manage difficult experiences and feelings.
Give your full attention, be curious and take it seriously. We all know it’s not nice to be half listened to. Being actively interested in your child can be a powerful way to help them feel listened to and understood. Try to resist the urge to downplay or dismiss what your child is telling you.
Emphasise that you are always available to talk. It may be that your child doesn’t want to talk, can’t find the words or at the moment is trying to assert their independence. Don’t be misled by your teenager’s need for separation. They need you just as much as ever.
Take time to reflect. Research shows that thinking about what is going on in your child’s mind and being aware of your own thoughts and feelings promotes secure attachment, good social skills and the ability to ‘read’ others.
Provide empathy. When children feel truly understood they start to be able to manage their emotions and this has a big impact on their well-being. Using empathy is also a great way to defuse tension.
Be aware of your own stress and negative feelings. They can really get in the way of feeling close to your child. Reflecting on the causes of stress can prevent it from spilling into your relationships at home.
Think about timing. Ask yourself ‘is this the right time to talk?’ Choose a time when you can focus on your child and ignore distractions.
What should I do if I am worried? As well as contacting Andover Mind Youth Counselling for support for your child, there are sources of support for yourself. MindEd for families provides comprehensive information on a range of mental health problems. You can speak to someone on the Young Minds Parent Helpline: 0800 802 5544 and also look at the Help for Parents section on the Young Minds website.
Some of the content on this page has been taken from ‘Talking mental health with young people at secondary school’ produced by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.