Tips for Parents: Supporting Children’s Mental Health
May is National Mental Health month. Multiple years of the pandemic and other social factors have brought us to this time where we are experiencing increasing mental health needs, especially among young people.
National State of Emergency
In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health.
“Even before the pandemic, we were seeing increased rates of mental health concerns and increased rates of suicide in youth. We are at a point where it is a significant crisis and challenge.” said Trevor Johnson, senior strategy director for Behavioral Health Services for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.
Mental health is the foundation for overall health and wellbeing. We care for our children in many ways – by providing housing, food and clothing, love and support. Caring for their mental wellbeing may sometimes feel beyond our skills as parents. Simple gestures and caring attention can help.
Tips for Parents
Tori Clark is an LSS mental health therapist who works with middle school youth and families offering an afterschool skills-building program for youth. She also coaches parents on how to talk with their children about mental health and support them on life’s journey. During Mental Health Month in May, she offers this helpful guidance for parents:
- Take an interest in your child’s activities and interests. Learn about video games they enjoy or books they are reading, or join them in a physical activity they enjoy, such as playing catch.
- Provide ongoing, safe spaces for conversation. Avoid starting with difficult questions. Check in to see how their day is going, what they might like to do over the weekend or how they feel about an upcoming test or school event. Engage conversation over games or car rides – distractions they may appreciate when talking about a challenge in their lives.
- If your child seems withdrawn or upset, ask them what is causing distress and how you can help. Showing genuine care and concern can make all the difference. Children and teens don’t always want solutions to their problems, just someone to listen and believe in them.
- Watch for signs of depression. In teens, depression can come out as anger, as well as being withdrawn or upset. Talk to your teen, see if you can find out what is bothering them. Other signs that could indicate depression include a sudden drop in grades or changes in sleeping habits. It can be difficult to determine if your teen is experiencing mood swings common to adolescence or struggling with depression. If signs last for more than a couple weeks, seek professional help to assess the situation.
- If your child is not comfortable talking about an issue, invite them to journal. That way, children and parents can create an open dialogue and “talk” about difficult challenges in life when topics are hard.
- If your child could benefit from mental health services, ask them if they would like to talk with a mental health professional – either through their school counseling office or a community provider. If a child has suicidal thoughts, parents are urged to call 988 to connect with immediate support.
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota is a provider of essential services serving one in 65 Minnesotans every year that include Behavioral Health services.
LSS Behavioral Health provides a wide range of mental health services for all ages and stages of life. If you or someone you know is struggling, Lutheran Social Service can help. Please call 888.881.8261 or visit lsscounseling.org for more information about services and locations.