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 →
Some of the hardest decisions parents of teenagers face are around how much freedom to give at what age. What is the correct curfew time for a 14 year old? At what age is it ok for them to go to the shopping arcade with their friends? Take a train by themselves? Have a girlfriend/boyfriend over? And what about parties? And alcohol?
The problem is that different parents make different decisions. It would be really handy if there was a universal consensus that all parents of teens would stick to, but there isn’t. There will always be teens who are allowed to stay out later or walk home in the dark (or do whatever it is you are telling your teen they can’t do) and that can make it really tricky to feel secure in your decision-making and stick to your guns in the face of a protesting teenager. Continue reading →
What is it about teenagers’ bedrooms? It’s like there’s some secret lesson at school that they all attend after which dirty pants, wet towels, half-empty crisp packets and every wearable item from their wardrobe are forever more jumbled in a heap on their bedroom floor. In the space of just a few months, I went from carefully picking my way through strewn Lego pieces to tip-toeing through smelly socks and dirty teaspoons.
Without a doubt, arguing about the untidiness of teenagers’ bedrooms is one of the top complaints I hear from parents of teens (second only to arguing about spending too much time on technology).
But just what level of tidiness is it reasonable for parents to expect? Continue reading →
If you are worried that your child’s anxiety is impacting negatively on his or her life then it’s a good idea to seek support. You’ll find some great advice for parents of anxious children on the Young Minds website, which outlines the different types of anxiety and how parents can help anxious children to develop coping strategies. There is also information for older anxious children and teens to read for themselves and clear factsheets written by The Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Young Minds have a parents’ support line (0808 802 5544) which you can phone to get one-to-one support on any emotional or mental health issue affecting children. For more general parenting advice – or if Bullying is a concern – then Family Lives also have a helpline (0808 800 2222). And, whatever the source of their worries, anxious children can get telephone support from ChildLine (0800 1111).
If you are a bit of a brain geek (like me) and a parent of teenagers (or nearly-teens) then this is the ideal book for you. It charts the changes that take place inside teenagers’ brains and how the differences between teenagers’ and adults’ brains can explain typical teenage behaviour (such as impulsivity, risk-taking, mood swings, lack of insight, forgetfulness, and poor judgement).
For a parent of teenagers, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults is both an enlightening and a frightening read. It will help you understand why your teenagers behave the way they do (and why they can’t control it) but also just how dangerous that teen thinking and risk-taking could be. A teenager’s brain is basically a recipe for disaster: a hormone flooded, jacked up, stimulus-seeking explosion incapable of weighing up risks or making mature decisions. It’s amazing any of them survive at all…. Continue reading →
Being a parent of teenagers, I know there are fewer choices out there when you are looking for parenting advice on teenage issues. Whether it’s professional help you are seeking or peer group camaraderie, it’s hard to find quality trustworthy parenting websites for teenagers and not-yet-teens (but-already-acting-like-ones).
We all need a bit of advice every now and then to dig ourselves out of a parenting hole – especially when our children are going through the rapid and sometimes tumultuous changes of the teenage years. For first timers, The Beginner’s Guide to Parenting Teenagers is a good starting point!
When the tricky issues strike, you need to be sure your information is accurate, reliable and practical. Here is my round up of the very best parenting websites for teenagers and tweenagers – I hope you find it useful. (And if I have left any out – please let me know!) Continue reading →
Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of reward charts. They help children to focus on the behaviour that is expected from them and they remind parents to catch their children being good and pay attention to it.
But when it comes to teenagers, a sticker chart is not going to do the trick. A slightly more grown up approach is required. One version of this is a ‘behaviour contract’.
The idea of a behaviour contract is that, just like a reward chart for younger children, it sets out clearly what behaviour is expected, what rewards or privileges will be earned by doing that behaviour but also what the consequences will be for misbehaviour.
A behaviour contract works best when the target (good) behaviour is clearly defined, when the rewards are achievable and when your teenager cares about the rewards and the consequences. Breaking habits takes effort – from both you and your teen – and behaviour contracts only succeed when both of you are on board. Continue reading →
Triple P parenting self-help workbooks are an ideal solution for parents who want to learn more about positive parenting but who can’t attend a parenting course.
The books cover all the same material as the acclaimed 8-week Triple P parenting courses – helping parents to discover and implement positive parenting strategies for managing, educating and caring for their children – but with the added convenience of being able to read it on the train or dip in and out as time permits. The workbooks guide parents through a 10 week series of reading, thinking and practice tasks designed to build good relationships with children, encourage their learning and development and manage their behaviour in a positive way. There are three Triple P parenting self-help workbooks to choose from, depending on the age and needs of your child: Continue reading →
Good communication is essential for building and maintaining relationships – chatting, sharing experiences, resolving problems and agreeing ground-rules. Which can be a bit of a problem when it comes to communicating with teenagers since hanging out with mum or dad isn’t always their top priority. The teenage years involve a major shift in parents’ relationships with their children as power and decision-making are handed over from parent to child. And along with this striving for independence comes an inevitable degree of pushback and rejection – of you, your habits and values, and of your right to know their thoughts. Maintaining good communication during this process can be challenging!
All teens are different and between the ages of 11 and 19 an individual teenager may undergo many transformations (so remember to enjoy the good bits!). But here are some practical tips on communicating with teenagers to help keep those channels open through the difficult bits. Continue reading →
One of my teenagers is a bit of a grump at the moment. Put it down to hormones or identity struggles, whatever the cause the result isn’t always pleasant. After dragging him to a barbecue this summer and being rewarded with appalling rudeness (in the presence of my Dad, even worse!), I came to the conclusion that spending family time with a teenager was a doomed project. But after a trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum less than a week later, I changed my mind. Having fun family time with a teenager is possible, but there is definitely a Right Way and a Wrong Way to go about it.
Homework is a common struggle for all parents. Every school night at desks, computers and kitchen tables across the country, weary parents pitch into battle over what homework needs to be done, when, how, and how good is good enough? Homework fights can really sour those precious few hours with our children between work and bed.
If homework fights are ruining your evenings, here are my top tips for taking the heat out of homework: