Worried about your child?

One of LPFT’s Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, Dr Sami Timimi, has written some advice for parents on dealing with children’s mental health problems:

(The following is an extract from his book ‘Straight-talking Introduction to Children’s Mental Health Problems’)

In recent years our expectations of children have increased and our ideas about what makes a ‘normal’ child narrowed, putting more pressures on children and more pressures on parents. Finding yourself anxious and concerned about whether your child is going to meet these demands and whether you as a parent can cope or help them achieve this, has become a common experience. Losing faith in your capacity as a parent is now common. This does not mean you have ‘failed’ or should feel guilty. Far from it. Good parents worry about their children and look for ways to improve things for them. It does mean however, that sometimes in these ‘pressure cooker’ conditions that modern life has created it becomes harder than ever to remember what you can do and even worse, get confused by the varieties of advice available (particularly from professionals).

Giving up too quickly

It is important you make a commitment to see through whatever intervention or strategy you have decided to try and not give up, even if you feel you are not getting anywhere after  only a few days.  This is particularly so for some medications or supplements, where you may have to wait for as long as two or three months whilst it is working, repairing and improving the functioning of cells, before any changes are observed.

With some of the interventions, like behavioural interventions, the use of negative consequences for unwanted behaviour often means unwanted behaviours actually get worse before starting to improve.  This is because if you are putting boundaries around negative behaviour and your child does not like this, they may feel they have to go even further than usual in their negative behaviour to get you to give in.

However, keep in mind the vast majority of children will feel happier (and safer) once any strategy you are using becomes ‘bedded in’ and they are used to the new rules / boundaries.  It is equally as important children are regularly getting positive feedback for any good behaviour.

Five simple things to try

  1. Diet and nutrition

As the old saying reminds us ‘healthy in body, healthy in mind’. Modern children’s diets are high in sugars, fats and salt and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals and essential fatty acids. There are three components to improving young people’s nutrition that has evidence to support them to improve their mental health.

  • Remove all potential irritants such as artificial additives and where possible use organic or free range foods and home cooking rather than pre-prepared meals and fast foods.
  • Add any missing nutrients by using a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement and essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and evening primrose oil)
  • Balance their diet – reduce sugars and saturated fats (unless the person is underweight) and increase complex carbohydrates (these regulate blood sugar levels) and fibre by eating raw fruit and vegetables. Eat three balanced meals a day including breakfast.
  1. Fresh air and exercise

Enable your child to get plenty of opportunities for exercise (particularly outdoors), including time for unstructured play.

  1. Clear and consistent consequences

There are two catch phrases worth remembering ‘Catch your child being good’ and ‘Stay firm, keep calm’.

Use positive consequences for good behaviour and work hard to find opportunities to praise, notice or reward your child when they are good.

Use negative consequences for unwanted behaviour and work hard to stick to these and not give in. When giving negative consequences such as time out and withdrawal of privileges make sure it is something you can stick to and is fairly immediate. Make sure you are being reasonable and are in control of what you are doing. Try not to get drawn into arguments which often just feed further emotional energy making the situation worse.

  1. Regular positive family time

Find opportunities to do things together as a family on a regular basis. For example going out together once every weekend and having at least one meal together a day. Like all relationships we have to continue to work on them.

  1. Communication and understanding

Talk to each other but more importantly listen to each other. Try to understand your child’s point of view and help them to understand yours. Try and create opportunities for you to communicate, listen and try and understand what’s on each other’s mind.

Remember these are just ideas and suggestions and there isn’t a magic ‘cure all’ that works for everyone.

It is okay if you get to the point of needing help. Accepting the need for help is often a sign of greater courage and honesty than avoiding it.

The Royal College of Psychiatry have published a toolkit for surviving the health and behaviour changes that occur during adolescence.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender

Young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and self-harm. This is because they are likely to have had to cope with a number of stressors such as fear of disclosure of their sexuality or gender issues, bullying or homophobic reactions at school or in the community, dealing with expectations from family or religions, loneliness, rejection and low self-esteem.

The basic need of every human is to feel loved, accepted, safe and secure. If your child or young person is struggling to cope with their feelings and is experiencing mental health problems, you can support your child by listening to their concerns and validating their emotions.

If you are worried that your child is experiencing distress from gender issues, you can ask a professional such as your GP.

There are several websites that offer support to both young people and parents if the young person is LGBT.

For more advice look at Family Lives website

Keeping your child safe on-line

For essential advice on keeping your child safe on-line go to Childnet website.