Parents survival guide

Unfortunately children and young people don’t come with a manual and it is often hard to know what course of action is best when your child’s behaviour changes and you start to worry about them.

Don’t blame yourself; it can be very difficult to deal with stressful situations.

Communication –your child or young person needs to know that your love and support for them is unconditional and that they can talk to you about anything. Let them know that they are not alone with their problems.

It can be very difficult to talk to those closest to you and if your child is finding it difficult to talk to you, see if they would prefer to write things down, record a vlog (private video log) or find someone that is safe for them to open up to such as a teacher, relative, GP etc.

Encourage your child to keep a diary of how they feel, what their sleep pattern is. It may be that you will be able to find some patterns in the diary that can be solved but at the very least it will be beneficial for them if a referral is made to mental health services.

Behaviour

Be clear to set boundaries. We all need to know where the line is drawn and without boundaries life can be confusing. Don’t be afraid to be clear about what is acceptable or not and be consistent. Being a parent might mean making unpopular decisions but your role is to keep your children safe.

As children get older it is normal to expect some behaviour changes. Teenager’s brains are wired differently from adults. The frontal cortex which is the part of the brain used to manage emotions, make decisions, reason and control inhibitions is restructured during the teenage years. The whole brain does not reach full maturity until about the mid 20s.

Hormones on top of these physical changes can further complicate things. Whilst these biological differences does not absolve them from responsibility for their behaviour it does help explain by teenagers behave impulsively or frustrate parents with poor decisions, social anxiety and rebelliousness. Understanding teenage development will help you to understand why they are behaving.

Teenagers are trying to establish their own identity and may be more influenced by their peers than by their parents. This may lead to more arguments and a withdrawal from family life to spend more time with their friends.

Hormones and developmental changes can often lead to mood swings and an inability to cope with their own emotions.

It is a really important time for you to show your teenager that you are there for them. They more than ever need your positive attention and to feel loved.

Remember – stay calm, be positive, make sure you educate your teenager so that they understand the risks of any decisions they make (drugs, alcohol, unprotected sex)

Be a role model to your child. If you are drinking, smoking or taking drugs your child will see this as normal behaviour and will not listen to you if you tell them not to do it.

As human beings we model others behaviours. If you get angry with your child they will also act in a negative way. The same can be said in reverse. If your child is acting in a negative way towards you, and you respond in a similar way, you will very quickly find that you are stuck in a negative cycle of behaviour. This is commonly seen in parent’s relationships with their teenagers and in unhappy relationships of any kind. The model below demonstrates this cycle and is called Betari’s Box.

There are ways to break this conflict:

Remember your attitude good or bad affects everyone around you.

If your child or young person is stuck in a negative cycle remember that you have a choice in how you respond. Just because that person is negative to you doesn’t mean that you have to be negative back.

If you do end up in a downward cycle with your child or young person, agree with them to stop and start again by being nice to each other.

Things to watch out for

Sleep

Children age 6-13 need 9-11 hours’ sleep a day

Teenagers are recommended to have 8-10 hours sleep, not more than 11.

Children and Young People need significantly more sleep than Adults to support their rapid mental and physical development.

Sleep routine is important for all of us to feel refreshed and motivated. If your child is not going to bed until the early hours of the morning they won’t be able to wake up until late morning. Encourage your child to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.

To get a good night’s sleep it needs to be dark – ban electrical equipment from being used whist in bed – that’s no phones, TV’s, iPad, electronic games etc. Apart from the over stimulation when you’re trying to relax, light from these items prevent Melatonin production. Melatonin is produced in the body to control our natural sleep-wake cycles.

There are conditions which affect the amount of sleep a child or young person has. These include Autism, ADHD, Sleep Apnoea and some physical conditions that make sleep difficult. It is important to watch out for significant changes to sleep pattern such as:

Excessive sleep beyond normal teenage tiredness or difficulty in sleeping (insomnia) may be due to depression, substance use or anxiety and if you are concerned speak to your GP.

Excercise

Encourage exercise on a daily basis – regular exercise helps you sleep better and feel less sleepy during the day. It can take several months of regular activity to experience full sleep promoting benefits

Get outside – Access to the outside during daylight hours will help your child to feel more awake and encourage a normal melatonin cycle.

Eat

Watch what your child/young person eats and drinks. Avoid excessive eating or drinking just before bed. But a light snack before bed may help them to get a good night’s sleep.

Caffeine can cause sleep problems up to 10-12 hours after drinking it.

Relax

Having a good bedtime routine will help your child/young person to relax. Encourage them to read a book, take a bath, listen to music/books, write a diary.

Looking after you

Worrying about your kids can mean that the last person you think about is yourself.  But if you don’t eat, sleep or take care of your own physical and or mental health you won’t be able to put your best effort into looking after your child.

Remember you need to follow the same advice that you give your children:

Make sure that you speak to someone, no problems are unique and there will be someone who is experiencing the same issues that you are facing. If you don’t want to discuss your problems with friends or family there will be support organisations and carers groups that can help you.

If things are stressful at home, ask for family/friends for support. If you need a break, ask if someone can step in to help you for a few hours.

If your health is suffering or you think that you are suffering from a mental health problem yourself you need to get support. Speak to your GP about what course of action would be best for you and they will help you to refer to the right service.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists have a toolkit for parents about surviving adolescence

Lincolnshire County Council’s website offers links for support and guidance for parents in Lincolnshire.