For parents and carers concerned about their children’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health’s Chief Psychiatrist Dr Neil Coventry has some helpful suggestions.
Talk to your child and listen
- Try and understand what they think is going on.
- Ask about how they feel about themselves and others.
- Most importantly, ask about their relationships with peers and with other adults in their lives.
- Find out what is happening at school academically and socially.
- Are they being teased or bullied on social media? Do they feel safe?
- How much time are they spending on social media? What are they watching on Tik Tok, Snapchat or any other social media platforms?
Spend time with your child
Spend time with your child and find the right time to talk to them about how they’re feeling.
"We need to be talking to our children about how they are coping. Please, reach out to your kids. Don't be anxious and afraid to have a conversation about how your kids are coping. What are their challenges and confusions about what is going on? I stress, this is a series of conversations. Not a one-off single intense conversation,” says Dr Coventry.
"Choose your opportunity as a parent when you may be doing an activity with your child you can have these conversations. It is a case of less is more and repeated conversations to explore how your child might be feeling,” he says.
“Encourage them to ask questions and, as adults, try to answer those questions as truthfully as we are able to do. It is really important to acknowledge the feelings of children and to recognise and help them to understand how they can manage this distress that they experience."
Check your child is getting enough sleep
National guidelines advise at least 9 hours sleep a night for kids aged 5-12 and 8 hours for kids aged 13-19. During home schooling, it’s particularly important to get a balance between study, relaxation, chillout time, exercise and meals, says Dr Coventry, “but also, more importantly, around the sleep patterns, particularly for vulnerable teenagers.”
Ensure your child is getting enough exercise
You can spend time with your children walking, cycling or running as a way to encourage activity.
Talk to your child’s teachers
What have your child’s teachers observed? Ask if they can keep a close eye on your child and advise on what may be going on. There are mental health counsellors in almost every public secondary school and in some primary schools. Can your child access this support?
Engage other trusted adults
Find out whether there are other adults your child trusts such as a teacher, a relative, family friend or health professional, who they feel comfortable talking to.
Be persistent and get professional help
It is important for parents to not give up trying. If your child is not their normal self, and does not respond to your attempts to help and problem solve, get in touch with your GP, headspace or your local child and youth mental health service.
If an appointment is offered, take it no matter how far into the future it is. In the meantime, work with your GP and your child’s school to help support your child.
In an emergency, parents should contact their local child and youth mental health service for advice, or emergency services by calling triple zero (000) if the situation is urgent.
Most importantly parents should try not to panic. “We know from research and experience that children and youth are reassured by parents who approach uncertainty with what appears to be a plan,” says Dr Coventry.
Find mental health support
For more on finding mental health support for children, see Children, young people and mental health services on the Better Health Channel website.