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One in eight children have mental health disorders – how should we talk to kids about emotional wellbeing?

The Independent logo The Independent 26/11/2018 Liz Connor

a boy standing in front of a building © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited A major NHS report has found that one in eight young people in England, aged between five and 19, suffer with a mental health disorder.

The survey, which looked at data from more than 9,000 children living in England and registered with a GP, found an increase in conditions such as anxiety, depression and OCD in children over the past decade.

A worrying one in 18 children aged two to four years now has at least one mental health condition, while 17-19-year-old girls have been identified as a ‘high risk’ group, with one in four suffering with disorder and 46.8% of children in this age category attempting self-harm or suicide.

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Child on phone © Getty Child on phone The emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health, and while having a conversation with your child about mental issues can be challenging, it can be the important first step in helping them to find the support they need.

Sarah Kendrick, head of service from children’s mental health charity Place2Be, reveals the dos and don’ts for talking to a young people you think may be struggling to cope.

Do… use age-appropriate language

It’s never too early or too late to start thinking about your child’s mental health – but do make sure you choose your language carefully, says Kendrick. “From a young age, children can start to understand difficult feelings and worries. Referring to characters in story books or on TV can be a helpful way to get them thinking about different emotions and how to cope with them.”

Don’t… overwhelm them

“It’s important to be honest with your children and answer their questions, but be careful not to bombard them,” warns Kendrick.

She suggests answering simply and in a way that addresses their personal anxieties. Check what it is they want to know, so you’re focusing on what they’re asking you.

Do… wait for the right moment

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23: Children await the arrival of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge on her visit to Roe Green Junior School on January 23, 2018 in London, England to launch a programme that supports children's mental health at school.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images) © Getty LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23: Children await the arrival of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge on her visit to Roe Green Junior School on January 23, 2018 in London, England to launch a programme that supports children's mental health at school. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

If you become aware of a problem, it can be tempting to rush in and insist on a chat straight away – but sometimes, waiting until things calm down can be the best approach.

“Finding a way not to put pressure on them, such as in the car or over a quiet activity, can help the conversation feel like less of an interrogation,” says Kendrick, “which is especially helpful for teenagers.”

Don’t… pretend to have all the answers

“Rather than jumping straight to suggesting solutions, try to think with your child about what might be helpful, and come up with the answers together,” Kendrick advises. “This will help empower your child and give them a sense of having some control over their situation.”

Do… put your phone away

A member of the public uses their mobile phone in Central London   (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images) © Getty A member of the public uses their mobile phone in Central London (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)

It’s really challenging when we all lead such busy lives, but getting rid of distractions will let your child know that you have time for them. “Committing to this regularly will remind your child that they can come to you if they’re struggling with something.”

Don’t… tell them to “just get over it”

“If your child tells you something is bothering them, take it seriously,” Kendrick stresses. “What can seem small to us as adults can feel enormous for a child. What’s more, it will keep the future lines of communication open when other challenges come up.”

Do… model good behaviour

“As parents, we are constant role models,” says Kendrick. “It’s important to think about your own behaviour and how you deal with emotions, such as anger and frustration, in front of your children – as this will influence how they behave and cope themselves.

“Don’t forget that it’s natural for everyone to get upset or angry sometimes, and parenting can be a very stressful experience.”

Don’t… blame yourself

(GERMANY OUT)   girl with laptop, child, kid, computer    (Photo by Kuttig\ullstein bild via Getty Images) © Getty (GERMANY OUT) girl with laptop, child, kid, computer (Photo by Kuttig\ullstein bild via Getty Images)

“Anyone can be affected by poor mental health, including children and young people. We wouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed if our child had asthma – the same goes for mental health issues.”

Do… ask for help

If you talk to your child and you’re still concerned, Kendrick says the best thing you can do is talk to someone – either someone at your child’s school, or your GP can recommend local organisations who can offer support.

Don’t… give up

If at first you don’t succeed, says Kendrick, don’t give up. “It may feel difficult, particularly if your young person doesn’t seem to want to open up, but they will appreciate the effort and in the long run, will remember that they can come to you to talk when the time is right for them.”

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