Recognizing and Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health: A Guide for Parents

As a relational and child therapist, I often work with parents concerned about their child’s mental health. It’s crucial to recognize the signs of distress and understand the pathways for support. In this post, I’ll share insights from trusted sources like the NICE guidelines, Young Minds, CAMHS, and the Anna Freud Centre, along with my professional experience.

Recognizing the Signs:

Children express distress differently from adults. Look for changes in behaviour, mood, or social interactions. According to the NICE guidelines (NICE, 2020), signs can include withdrawal from social activities, changes in eating or sleeping habits, or unexplained physical symptoms.;

  • Academic Changes: A noticeable drop in grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or frequent school absences can be indicators of distress.
  • Behavioural Changes: Increased irritability, aggression, or defiance beyond normal developmental behaviour may signal underlying issues.
  • Social Withdrawal: Avoiding or losing interest in social interactions with peers, family members, or activities they previously enjoyed.
  • Emotional Changes: Exhibiting excessive worry, sadness, fear, or being overly clingy and dependent can be signs of emotional distress.
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns: Difficulty falling asleep, frequent nightmares, or sleeping too much or too little.
  • Physical Symptoms: Unexplained headaches, stomach aches, or a general decline in physical health without a clear medical cause.
  • Regressive Behaviours: For younger children, reverting to behaviours they have outgrown, such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking.
  • Changes in Appetite: Significant changes in eating habits, whether eating too much or too little.
  • Loss of Interest: Lack of enthusiasm or motivation for activities they usually enjoy.
  • Self-Harm or Risky Behaviours: Engaging in self-harm (like cutting), or showing an inclination towards risky or dangerous behaviours.
  • Substance Use: In adolescents, starting to use alcohol or drugs can be a sign of trying to cope with emotional distress.
  • Excessive Worry about Weight or Appearance: Especially in adolescents, this can be a sign of body image issues or eating disorders.
  • Talk of Death or Suicide: Expressing thoughts about death, dying, or suicide, even in a seemingly casual or joking manner, should always be taken seriously.

It’s important to remember that any significant change in a child’s behaviour or mood that lasts for more than a few weeks could be a sign of distress and may warrant professional attention. If you’re concerned about your child, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for guidance.

The Young Minds website offers a comprehensive list of signs to watch for in different age groups (Young Minds, 2023).

Seeking Professional Help

If you notice these signs, it’s essential to seek professional help. CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) advises consulting with your GP or a mental health professional who can guide you towards appropriate interventions (CAMHS, 2023).

Supporting Your Child at Home:

While therapy can be beneficial, some children may be reluctant to attend sessions. In such cases, as a relational therapist, I recommend that parents consider their own patterns of interaction. The Anna Freud Centre suggests that changes in parental behaviour and interaction styles can significantly impact a child’s mental well-being (Anna Freud Centre, 2021).

Engaging in Relational Therapy:

Parents can engage in relational therapy to learn new ways of supporting their child. This form of therapy focuses on understanding and improving the dynamics within relationships. By altering how you interact with your child, you can create a more supportive and understanding environment. This approach can be especially helpful when a child is resistant to individual therapy.

Empowering Parents and Families:

It’s important to remember that as a parent, you have a powerful role in your child’s mental health journey. Educational resources, support groups, and professional guidance can empower you to be an effective support system for your child.

Children’s mental health is a delicate and complex issue. By staying vigilant to signs of distress and being open to professional guidance and self-reflection, parents can play a crucial role in supporting their child’s mental health. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and help is available.


  • NICE. (2020). Mental Health Problems in Children and Young People: Identification and Management. [Online] Available at:
  • Young Minds. (2023). Warning Signs in Children’s Mental Health. [Online] Available at:
  • CAMHS. (2023). CAMHS Advice for Parents and Guardians. [Online] Available at:
  • Anna Freud Centre. (2021). Supporting Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools. [Online] Available at:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *