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How to spot when your child is struggling

COVID-19 has caused lots of changes for everyone. Stress, fear, grief and isolation are all common feelings that may be wearing your child down in times like this. Everyone is feeling some type of uncertainty right now and that’s ok. If there’s anything we’ve learnt during this pandemic, it’s that nobody is alone and you should always remind your child of this whenever you can.

Struggles and losses will likely affect families for some time but it’s important to keep the conversation open so that we can all help each other through such a challenging time. Our children are likely to be more affected by the pandemic than we may first think, that’s why it’s important to learn any warning signs and avenues of help to support them through any struggles they may be facing.

How is your child coping?

Communication is the best way to express our feelings to others and to understand how we’re really feeling. Depression, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and anger may be signs that your child could use some support. Most adolescents and young adults will hide their struggles in fear of shame or to avoid becoming a burden. However, it’s important to keep an open conversation with your child, try to spot any warning signs that they may be struggling and remind them that you’re there to help and that they’re never a burden to you. Younger children also find it hard to put their feelings into words, so look out for any changes in their behaviour or development.

What stress looks like for children

It’s important to understand that signs of stress or mental health issues are not the same in every child. However, learning the common signs will provide you with the basic knowledge of how to spot them when your child may be struggling.

Stress and young children

Due to their age, stress and mental health issues could affect your child’s progress in skills and developmental milestones, so keep a lookout for this or signs of any previous progress declining.

Other issues and signs to look out for are:

  • Are they fussier and more irritable than normal? Have you noticed that they cry a lot easier or that you’re finding it harder to console them?

  • Are they falling asleep ok but waking up more than usual during the night?

  • Is their reflux becoming worse? Are they constipated? Are they complaining of stomach pain?

  • Is your child suddenly suffering from separation anxiety and acting clingier than usual? Are they withdrawn? Hesitant?

  • Has your child started to become more violent? Hitting? Biting? Frequent intense tantrums?

  • Have they recently been potty-trained but are now suddenly wetting the bed?

  • Has your child started to conflict and be more aggressive or even started to use themes of illness or death during play?

Spotting the signs in young children may be harder, but if you notice any unexplained changes, be sure to consult your GP for a second opinion.

Stress and older children

Signs of distress in older children can be slightly different to those in younger children.

  • Are they experiencing sudden changes in their mood such as irritability or feelings of hopelessness or even rage? Are they often conflicting with friends or family?

  • Have you noticed a change in their behaviour? Are they suddenly stepping back from personal relationships? If your teen is usually video chatting with their friends and suddenly they don’t want to do this anymore, this may be cause for concern.

  • Have they lost interest in activities they previously enjoyed? Has your music-loving child suddenly stopped wanting to listen to their favourite music?

  • Are they struggling to fall asleep? Are they starting to sleep much more than they usually would?

  • Is their appetite different? Has their weight changed? Are they never hungry or hungry all the time?

  • Are they showing signs of struggling with their memory? Are they struggling to concentrate?

  • Have they lost interest in school work?

  • Have they started to lack basic personal hygiene? Have they started to dress differently?

  • Is their behaviour risky or reckless? Are they getting involved with drugs or alcohol?

  • Have they had thoughts about death or suicide or have they started to talk more about suicide?

Seek help

Keeping in touch with your paediatrician or GP is more important than ever, especially since COVID-19. If you’re starting to have any concerns or questions about your child, don’t hesitate to contact your GP for advice.

Your doctor can screen for issues such as depression and try to find any other causes for concern like anxiety or if they’re struggling to cope with stress. Your doctor may also ask if anyone in your family has any of these symptoms as this can impact your child’s health too. Always make sure you’re offering your teen some privacy when they’re talking to their doctor so that they can talk as openly and honestly as possible.

Losing a loved one

Children of any age who experience the loss of a loved one are much more at risk of mental health issues and struggles. If your child has suffered a loss, pay extra special attention to their moods and behaviours. If you think they could be struggling in any way, it may be worth seeking help from a professional counsellor to help your child understand their grief and the way they feel.

Support bubble

When it comes to supporting your child through their issues and struggles, your doctor will always give the best guidance on the best ways to help them through. Some children may need time and space. Other children may need to use other ways of expressing their feelings through activities such as drawing, painting or gradual conversations. Direct conversations and activities can be helpful in supporting your child too. Children will often look to a trusted adult to safely express their feelings, whether this is you or not, always give them the space to communicate openly.

Suicide risk

Sadly, the rate of suicide for both adolescents and adults increases during times of high stress. Remember, not only can your GP screen for mental health issues but they can also screen for suicide risk.

It’s important to know that not everyone who considers suicide will talk about it and not everyone who talks about suicide will act on it. Nevertheless, suicide should always be taken seriously. If you are ever worried that your child is thinking about suicide, seek help and ensure your home is safe from any weapons or medication that your child could use to harm themselves.

Not only can you seek help from your doctor, but you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123 for any emotional support your child may need. In any crisis always call 999 for emergency help as soon as you can.

Set the tone

As a parent, you set the tone of your household. Therefore, if you express any fears at home, this can affect your child’s mental health. During such a challenging time, it can be hard to remain positive 24/7, but always try to relay positive messages and keep reminding your children that there are better days ahead. Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world, so be sure to make time for yourself and practice self-care. Taking care of yourself when possible will ultimately make sure you’re in the best mindset to look out for your child. A great way to keep your household uplifted is by building in some downtime for the whole family to connect and relax, whether this is watching a movie together or playing games.

Communication is key

Remember, communication is key when it comes to you and your child. If your child feels comfortable talking openly with you, it makes it easier for you to spot any warning signs and it helps you adapt your parenting to help your child in the best ways possible.

If you think your child is struggling, try purchasing one our of therapeutic tools designed to help your child open up to you.

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