The lifting of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions is positive news in terms of wider opportunities for children to play and reconnecting with friends and family. But many parents and professionals are deeply concerned about the impacts of a long period of social distancing on children and teenagers’ emotional wellbeing. Coming on top of an existing crisis in children’s mental health and already sky high levels of anxiety, emerging from lockdown poses many challenges. Especially for children and teens who were already struggling.
So what can parents do? One of the best things we can do is to equip children with an understanding of mental health (see Talking to children about mental health) and some concrete strategies for managing their thoughts and emotions in order to reduce stress and anxiety. Guided meditation and mindfulness apps for children and teens are a brilliant resource for helping them train their brains, learn to relax and manage any anxious thoughts. Many mindfulness apps are based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and there is extensive evidence that these strategies work.
Mindfulness apps can help with sleep issues, general worries and just for helping children to wind down at the end of the day, as well as for more entrenched mental or emotional health issues. There are lots of apps on the market – here’s my pick of the best guided meditation and mindfulness apps for children and teens of all ages. Continue reading →
I have been having a lot of Twitter chats this week about helping teenagers through social distancing. Firstly, how to convince teenagers to stay at home. Then, how to keep them entertained when they do stay at home. And now, how to manage the emotional fallout when teens are made to stay home.
The teenage years are all about breaking away from family and finding your feet in the social world. Mates, friends and peers (whether positive or negative) are at the centre a teen’s worldview. Many teenagers reject family activities and parental contact and withdraw to their own peer group or their own private space. Younger siblings are often rejected too (they symbolise the childishness that teenagers need to discard in order to become young adults). So having to stay cooped up inside with only their family to socialise with for an indefinite period of time goes against the grain of a teenager’s development. It’s a delicate situation for parents to manage.
When faced with any tricky parenting issue, it’s always a good idea to listen first and act second. When we stand in our children’s shoes and see the world from their point of view, it’s much easier to find a way to help them. Often, helping children isn’t about parents finding the ‘right’ solution. It’s about supporting children to find their own solution and solve their own problem. Helping teenagers through social distancing is no different.
But what if your teen won’t open up or engage in dialogue? Teenagers who are trying to break away from childhood will often aggressively shield their inner lives and thoughts from their parents as an assertion of independence and separateness. Luckily, I currently have a couple of teenagers in my house who have nowhere to run and not much to do. So I asked if they could give us some insights into being a teen during Covid-19 and some advice for parents helping teenagers through social distancing. Continue reading →
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No stage of parenting is easy. Each age brings its unique challenges. Parenting is a journey packed with torrential emotions, sudden surprises, gnawing worries, and lashings of daily self-doubt. We never really know if we’ve got it right. There is simply no single ‘right’ to be ‘got’.
If we are lucky, we are surrounded by people we can turn to for reassurance. And safe people to lean on when the burden is getting us down.
When children are very little, that community often helps carry us through. There are the NCT chums and the pre-children friends who have grown families at the same time. And the Nursery or school gate pals that you are thrown together with at all those birthday parties. Not to mention the Facebook groups of other local mums and dads ready to give advice or point you in the right direction.
But when the teenage years arrive – at exactly the point where the challenges of parenting can really shift gear – a lot of that support falls away.
Today’s video post is all about managing children’s emotional behaviour – both little ones and teens. Often, when children are emotional, that comes out as difficult behaviour – behaviour that parents find challenging. And it can be difficult to know what to do. Should you respond to the behaviour? Or to the emotion?
The trick for managing children’s emotional behaviour is actually to do both. Here are a few tips on how you can use reflective and empathetic listening whilst also drawing boundaries around unacceptable actions.
Want to help your child manage their emotions a little better? Watch this free video tutorial for lots of ideas for self soothe strategies for children.
It’s not often that I wholeheartedly recommend a parenting book. I can usually find something I disagree with… Or that I think could have been clearer/included/left out. But, parents of teenagers, this is actually a really good book! The Incredible Teenage Brain by Bettina Hohnen, Jane Gilmour and Tara Murphy is perfectly pitched. It’s an easy-to-read neuroscientific guide to teenagers with practical tips that parents and teachers can take away and apply. Will it make parenting your teenager easy? No. But it might help you understand him/her a little more and see how you can best be supportive.
Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the physical side of the book – its size, font, spacing etc. The font is large and friendly, there are lots of spaces and subtitles, plus Q&As, illustrations and tables. All of which make it very easy to follow, despite the in depth neuroscience. The text is accessible without dumbing down the issues. Continue reading →
I have had absolutely no time to write this week, so here’s a quick video blog instead on how to maintain a good relationship with your teenager. If you are interested in this topic, you might also like to read my top tips on communicating with teenagers.
Have you read any Young Adult fiction recently? Because, seriously, YA fiction is where it’s all happening. Strong characters, gripping plots, imaginative worldscapes – the best YA books are packed with all the juiciest elements of fiction. Perfect for inspiring teenage daughters to take on life at full tilt. Here’s my pick of the best!
(Obviously, all these books can be read by boys too. I just think that these particular books have strong female characters with the kind of bravery and resourcefulness that I would wish for every teenage girl to carry her through to adulthood and beyond.)Continue reading →
It’s easy to forget how little teenagers know about the world. Partly because they look so grown up and partly because they have that know-it-all attitude. But, in reality, they are only half emerged from the cocoon of childhood where parents did everything for them.
I was reminded of this remarkable lack of real-world knowledge a few weeks back when my teenager got a cheque from his Grandmother. When the cheque fell out of the birthday card, he picked it up and looked at me with that “I have no idea what this is” look on his face.
It wasn’t the first time he’d received a cheque. When they were younger, Grandma used to send cheques addressed to me and I would deposit them in my account and give the kids cash in return. Last year, Grandma had a bit of a senior moment and forgot to post a card in time. So I texted her my son’s newly opened bank account details and she did a quick bank transfer instead.
This year, she wrote the cheque out directly to my son. And he looked at it, completely blankly. “What do I do with this?” he asked. Continue reading →
The teenage years can be a bit of a shock. Logically, of course, you know they are coming. But it’s impossible to predict exactly how your lovely, loving child will change when they hit the teenage years. Or how you will react as a parent when they do.
Parenting teenagers requires us to adapt our parenting style. Some of us come into our element in the teenage years – this period fits well with our natural parenting style. Things that we were doing ‘wrong’ in earlier years become ‘right’ in the teenage years. Others of us get pulled completely out of our comfort zone and everything we have learnt as parents in the preceding decade no longer seems to work.
Whatever your experience, it’s a good time to reach for a book or two to help you understand what’s going on in your teenager’s brain and reflect on your new family dynamics. To help you choose, here’s my take on a selection of the bestselling books on parenting teenagers. Continue reading →
Children and young people’s mental health is hardly out of the news these days (see Crisis in children’s mental health). But often parents are at a loss how best to help and support a child/teenager who is struggling. So I have brought together all in one place this resource list of websites, apps, books and other sources of support for parents/carers of children and young people who are struggling with their mental health. I hope you find it useful. Continue reading →
All children need to know about mental health. They need to know how to look after their minds as well as their bodies. They need to know that it is possible to feel mentally unwell as well as physically unwell. And what to do if that happens. They need to know that people can and do recover from mental illnesses. And they need strategies for supporting their friends to stay emotionally healthy and to be alert to others’ signs and needs. Talking to children about mental health gives a strong signal that mental health matters.
Many mental health issues first emerge in the teenage years. Half of adults with mental health conditions experienced their first symptoms before the age of 15. Approximately 10% of young people will experience a mental or emotional health issue each year – that’s three teenagers in every class. A teenage boy is more likely to die by suicide than to die in a road traffic accident. Talking to children about mental health from an early age makes it more likely they will talk to you if things get tough. Continue reading →
When children’s mental or emotional health is challenged, parents are usually the first responders. And long waits for specialist services mean parents can sometimes be left providing support for considerable periods of time. Faced with a distressed child or a depressed teenager, it isn’t always easy to know what to do. Self-help books for supporting children’s mental health can be really useful – both as a tool for working through issues together with your child and just for helping parents to be better informed.
So, whether you are intervening early to prevent ill-health or coping with more serious problems, here are my recommendations of the best books for supporting children’s mental health. Specifically for parents tackling issues like anxiety, low mood and self-harming behaviours. Continue reading →
As the parent of teenagers, I have found that knowing a little bit about their internal mechanisms really helps me keep some of their less desirable behaviour in perspective. So, for your amusement and edification, here are a few weird and wonderful facts about teenagers that might explain why they do the things they do….
Teenagers can’t remember future tasks
Teenagers have poor prospective memories which means they are not very good at holding things in their heads to remember to do later. When you nag them, it really does go in one ear and out the other. Teaching teens to use props like timetables, planners and checklists can help get them organised (see Teaching teens self-organisation skills). Continue reading →
Following the recent parliamentary inquiry into the role of schools in children’s mental health was a pretty grim experience. Just when I thought the stats couldn’t get any worse, a new clutch of horrific numbers would appear. Anyone who claims there isn’t a crisis in children’s mental health just isn’t looking at the figures. And although the final committee report is full of good intentions, the lack of hard cash to back it up (and the demographic bulge which is about to create a surge in teenage numbers) leaves me unconvinced that change is about to happen.
For those of you who missed it, some of the key statistics are below. Be warned, they are scary and I wouldn’t blame you if you chose to skip them…
Calls to ChildLine reporting suicidal thoughts are up by 33%
Self-harm hospital admissions are up by more than 50%
79% of children say they experienced emotional distress after starting secondary school
In a school class of 30 children, on average, three will suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder
1 in 3 young people do not know where to get help if they feel depressed or anxious
Children’s mental health services (CAMHS) are experiencing unprecedented demand. Waiting times have doubled since 2010/11. 23% of referrals are turned away completely.
During one week in March 2017 there was not a single bed available in the whole country for an inpatient admission for a child/teenager in mental health crisis
Only 40% of parents are confident they could identify mental health problems in their child
Brain-based parenting: The Neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment (by Daniel A. Hughes & Jonathan Baylin) tries to do something truly amazing – to explain the chemical and emotional brain mechanisms that interact to create and sustain the loving bond parents feel for our children. That magical bond that makes us love every inch of them, that makes us prioritise our children’s needs over our own and keeps their wellbeing central to our thoughts and fears. And that stops us throwing them out the window when they are at their most annoying and antagonistic. This is magical territory indeed.
This book covers some really crucial topics – like the importance of parents’ emotional self-regulation in parenting effectively and the negative impact of stress on parents’ ability to tune into their children empathetically (and remain the ‘adult in the room’). There are some fascinating insights into the roles of oxytocin and dopamine in building the parent-child relationship and ensuring the parent gets pleasure from it (and therefore wants to engage even more). And a truly wonderful “caregiving formula” comprising playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy to optimise a reciprocal and nurturing parent-child relationship. Continue reading →