Parents often say that the main hope they have for their children is that they will be happy. If we think about this a little we know that our children won't be happy every moment of every day. We know that they will sometimes experience challenges and frustrations that they will need to navigate. It's probably a general, overall sense of happiness that parents hope their children will feel.
It's no wonder then, that being confronted by their child being unhappy, and possibly experiencing a mental health difficulty, will be a real concern for parents. It can be easy then when confronted by this possibility to be a bit dismissive, to hope the concern will pass or to see it as a temporary situation only.
Unfortunately, however, up to 1/4 of all children and young people might be experiencing some kind of mental health difficulty. Perhaps most concerning is that less than a quarter of those children and young people are receiving professional help for those difficulties. We also know that the earlier children get help for any problems the better the outcomes for them now and into the future.
A recent study conducted by Monash University revealed that there are two main predictors of parents (mothers in their study) accessing professional help for their child's behavior concerns:
1. They had previously sought professional help for personal stress
2. They recognised that their child's behavior was problematic.
So what does this mean if you are a parent who is concerned about your child's behavior but are not feeling sure about what to do next? What if someone has raised a concern with you but you are not sure that it is a problem? What if you have had a negative previous experience when you sought help from a mental health professional?
Here's a few tips that might help:
Identify a professional you can trust, perhaps your child's teacher or your family general practitioner. Discuss your concerns with them.
Keep a diary of your child's behavior at home. Note your own feelings and responses to those behaviors.This will be invaluable in helping you remember details that you can share with a health professional. It will help you notice strengths and areas of concern for your child.
Talk with trusted friends and family members about children's development generally. Try to get a sense of what other children your child's age are doing.
If you have seen mental health professionals in the past and not found this helpful, reflect on what didn't work for you. Try to pinpoint what will be most useful for you and your child. Use this when you meet with a mental health professional to let them know what you help you most.
If you have a referral to a mental health professional, ring and have a conversation first. Ask questions about what to expect during the first session, how the professional works - whether there is a particular approach she or he uses and how much experience she or he has had with children and families. This will give you a sense of how comfortable you are likely to feel.
Read reputable information on websites. Be cautious about forums and blogs written by parents - while the lived experience of others is valid and can be useful, always remember they are one person's experience. Sometimes people with negative experiences can dominate such forums, giving an imbalanced view.
Remember that your child's teacher's and health professionals all want the same as you do for your child; for your child to be developing in a healthy way. Finding a way to work together with that in mind will be most helpful.
Know that many families experience concerns about parenting and their children's mental health. Being willing to seek help as early as possible is a strength and will ensure that your child is getting the best support you can provide.
Discuss openly with your child's mental health professional how you are feeling, what is working or not and any concerns you have. Take a list of questions with you to help you remember and make the most of the session time.
If you think you will find it helpful, take another person, such as partner, grandparent or friend, with you to appointments. It can help to share your experience.