Tips for parents on how to deal with their child's mental health

Positive relationships with caregivers are vital for promoting a young child’s brain development, well-being and mental health

parents and daughter
17 June 2022

From the moment they are born, babies look to caregivers to help them learn, develop and thrive. Whether a parent, grandparent or other caring adult, caregivers play the most important role in supporting the physical, emotional and cognitive development of children. But parenting is not an easy job and, as any caregiver knows, it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. 

Building a better relationship

Remember the three steps for communicating effectively with your child.

Listen, encourage, and ensure them that it’s okay and safe to share their thoughts and feelings. While listening and encouraging your child to share, continue nodding your head or using short positive responses in words. Don’t be judgemental. Trust and believe them and be patient.

Observe your child without any distraction like listening to music, watching TV, reading the newspaper, etc. or multitasking like talking on the phone, doing household chores, office work, etc. Make eye contact and give them your undivided attention while listening or talking.

Be honest and make them feel (with your words and body language) that you are here to support them. And keep up with their interests – talk about the music or television show they like, talk about a famous personality, or share a story. Enjoy their company and nurture this beautiful relationship. You can do this by taking your child on a walk, watching a movie, or telling them a story. Develop a shared interest such as cooking or yoga or art.

Praise your child for something they have done well. And never discuss an issue while you are angry or when your child is not in a good mood. When there is conflict, take some time to reflect on how you and your child can resolve it together.

parents and daughter
UNICEF/UNI310828/Altaf Ahmad

Whether you and your child and teen are getting along well or having challenges, it is important to show that you love and support them, that you can help them navigate tough times and that you are always there for them.

Here are things to keep in mind when having that ‘how-are-you-doing?’ conversation with your teen and to show that you are always there for them.

Accepting mental health is a challenge

Make sure your child knows that they aren't alone. Reassure them that you'll be there, whenever they need any help or want to share any feelings or thoughts. Tell them that even grown-ups have problems that they can't solve on their own. Point out that it's easier to ask for help when someone else is on your side.

Look for ways to check in with your child. Ask them how their day has been and what they have been doing. Try to give them the appropriate time and space to be on their own. Tell them that it's normal for children to worry, feel stressed or sad.

Tell your child that it can be scary to talk about how they feel and what they think but its ok to share and the right thing to ask for help. If they don’t want to talk to you, suggest other people they could talk to like an aunt or uncle, a close family friend, a trusted teacher or faith leader, an elder, or your doctor.

Encourage your child to take breaks from schoolwork, housework, or other activities to do things they enjoy. Suggest some activities of their choice as healthy alternative engagements. 

It is important to first take good care of yourselves so that you can better help your child to nurture, grow, and develop in a positive and safe environment. Praise yourself about what you have done well! If you feel distressed seek help. And yes, it is okay for you to talk to a doctor or a professional as well.

UNICEF/UNI310864/Altaf Ahmad

Treat your children equally

Be open and accepting with your child regardless of gender and encourage them to express their feelings and express their own sense of identity. Nurture, love and care for children equally, irrespective of their gender and sexual orientation.

Be a positive role model by challenging gender stereotypes. For example, fathers can participate in cooking and cleaning and mothers can play outdoor sports.

Talk to your teen boy that it is okay to be emotional. Encourage them to feel love, anger, happiness, sadness or whatever it is they are going through. Take pro-active steps to address the gender discrimination within families that has an impact on nutrition, mental health and mobility of girls.

Adolescents from the LGBTQI community may face discrimination at home, in school or the community. Ensure they have equal opportunities for education, nutrition and play.

Nurturing a better environment at home

Children feel secure and structured with rules, boundaries, and consequences that are mutually agreed upon with them. Your child is more likely to follow family rules if they helped make them. They help your child understand family standards (its strength and positive impacts) and the consequences of breaking them. Negotiating adherence to rules with your child can reduce the anxiety, anger, distrust and manage conflict.

Positive family rituals, traditions, and habits give children opportunities to build and strengthen the relationships. Set realistic expectations from your children about family traditions in matters related to their education, marriage, careers, etc. It may be difficult to talk about some issues like sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. within the family but prepare yourself for these conversations with teens. Handle breaches of trust calmly.

Engage children in household responsibilities as a way of teaming up for some shared work according to their age, ability and other engagements. Discuss household responsibilities and try to motivate them to take interest and show their willingness to take the responsibility. Agreed-upon household tasks provide teens a sense of contribution. These include chores, shopping, helping family members, etc.

Actively involve adolescent boys and girls in the process of decision making on the issues concerning their life according to their age and capacity. Many problems can sometimes be solved more effectively through family meetings and collaboratively finding solution to family problems.