So, you have worked up the courage to ask your teenager the often-difficult question, ‘Are You Okay?’ but what comes next?
How can you help them navigate their feelings and offer them the support they need?
In 2019 statistics showed that one in seven teenagers, approximately 591, 000 Australian teenagers, experienced mental health disorders in the previous 12 months. These mental health disorders include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder and conduct disorder.
Last week Australian Rotary Health (ARH) held a round table discussion with a panel of experts to encourage parents and children to talk about mental health issues as part of their Lift the Lid on Mental Illness campaign. The ARH panel which included Maggie Dent, Doctor Ron Rapee, Dr Claire Kelly and Dr Kylie King focused on answering that question of what comes next.
Here are twelve things that the experts recommend for fostering positive mental health discussions with your child:
1. Make the Small Moments Count
Acclaimed author and child expert, Maggie Dent explains that when it comes to time spent with our children, making the most of the ‘micro-moments’ is just as important as getting lots of one-on-one time with them.
Even just reading with them or to them is a great way to spend time together.
The research on the benefits of reading to children showed that this simple activity can result to a core memory that kids carry with them through teenage years and adulthood. A bond as simple as this brings about a myriad of benefits towards kids growth.
2. Create Love Bridges
Parents can find ways to connect with their children by creating what Dent calls ‘love bridges’, these love bridges are easy to do and create lasting memories for your child. Little love bridges can be anything from making a funny face, touching them on the arm or jokingly sitting on them. All of these things tell your teenager that you love them and that you are there for them.
3. Try A Cup Of Hot Chocolate
Dent suggests that when your child is feeling sad and not opening up to you the best thing to do is to try an alternative approach, for example making them a hot chocolate and sitting down with them for a biscuit.
4. Form a Circle
Create a circle of people around your child that they can trust and feel comfortable talking too, Dent says that these should be people that make your child feel accepted so that they go to them for advice and support.
5. Find an Outlet
Dent suggests that one way to get children to talk about mental health is to find an outlet, something that they can do to cheer them up, something that is fun and positive like a sewing circle or community activity.
6. Some Anxiety is Good
Professor of Psychology and founder of Cool Kids, Dr Ron Rapee explains that a little bit of anxiety in children is a good thing as it is a perfectly normal emotion that we all need to protect us from danger.
7. Credit Your Teens for The Good Work They Have Done Getting Through COVID
2020 has been rough on everyone but for teenagers, it has meant missing out on things like senior formal and other once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Dr. Rapee explains that it is important for parents to acknowledge how well their children have coped through the pandemic and to tell them how proud they are.
8. Continue the Conversation
Teen Mental Health First Aid founder, Dr Claire Kelly explained that often teenagers who are experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts will share their feelings with their peers online. If your child finds out that a friend is having these feelings, it is important to encourage them to talk about it so that they know they don’t have to face it alone.
9. Encourage Your Child’s School to Invest in Teen Mental Health Aid
Statistics show that children who receive teen mental health first aid are nine times more likely to ask a friend about suicidal thoughts in a supportive way. As Doctor Kelly stated, around 40 young people attempt suicide each year so Teen Mental Health Aid programs can make a huge difference in children’s lives.
10. Use Social Media for Good
Doctor Kelly says that there is a positive aspect to children using social media in that it allows them to share their mental health issues with people who are paying attention. She suggests saving mental health service phone numbers in your child’s phone in case they need someone to talk to.
11. Use Lockdown to Take Stock
This year has been hard for everyone, given all of the stress that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it. However, one of the positive things to come out of it has been that people have been able to spend more time with their family, Senior Research Fellow at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University, Dr Kylie King told the panel that this is a good time for parents to have a think about their families routine and what they can change to take some of the pressure off one another.
12. Read a Book
Reading has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, reading with your children encourages positive habits that will benefit them mentally in the future.
Research is critical to getting these programs off the ground and during October’s Mental Health Awareness Month, QBD Books and some of their leading publishers have come together in support to raise vital funds for mental health research projects by Australian Rotary Health.
This month when you purchase from a nominated list of book titles at QBD Books in store and online they will donate $2 to LIFT the LID on Mental Illness.
This complements the national program they launched earlier in the year and recently extended into 2021 due to COVID impacts to LIFT the LID on Mental Illness in Schools, where schools are encouraged to register to get involved and host the campaign during the year. Every child’s $2 donation will receive a $2 voucher to redeem on selected books at QBD. Reading has been such a valuable escape during COVID and the benefits of reading to manage anxiety and stress are widely documented. These are more simple, positive approaches we can encourage our children to take every day to make them feel good.
If you would like to learn more about Lift The Lid on Mental Illness, how you can help raise funds or how you can get your child’s school involved, you can visit the website here.
Lifeline phone: 13 11 14 [lifeline.org.au]
Beyond Blue phone: 1300 22 46 36 [beyondblue.org.au]
Suicide Call Back Service phone:1300 659 467 [suicidecallbackservice.org.au]
Kids Helpline phone: 1800 551 800 [kidshelpline.com.au]