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Just Talk - advice for parents and carers

We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. 

This new Hertfordshire campaign aims to make it easier for all of us to talk about our mental health and seek help when it’s needed.  At the moment 70% of Herts boys and 72% of Herts girls think it’s ok to talk about their mental health.  We need to make it 100%.

If your child wants to talk:

Listen – it’s important to listen carefully and give your child your full attention. If you are in the middle of doing something else and can’t give them your full attention then arrange a time to sit down together later.  We all get frustrated at times. Try not to express frustration or impatience, or rush in with solutions or judgments as this may prevent your child from opening up.

Remember that the teenage brain is still developing and works slightly differently to the adult brain – therefore what may seem like an over-reaction to an adult is a REAL challenge for the young person.

If your child doesn’t want to talk:

We can’t force someone to talk, but phrases like “I’m ready to listen when you are feeling ready to talk” and “Let me know if/when you would like to talk” can be helpful.
Use ordinary situations at home as opportunities to have a non-direct conversation to start with e.g. walking the dog together, doing the washing up, cooking dinner, etc.
Ask open questions such as “How are things going?” or “What was your day like?”
Make your child aware of local information sites that are available to them, like this one and www.healthforteens.co.uk or national sites such as www.youngminds.org.uk where you will also find useful information for parents/carers.

Supporting boys:

Think about what language you use – phrases like ‘Man up’ and ‘toughen up’ can really make it difficult for someone to talk about how they’re feeling for fear of appearing weak
Mental health problems are not a weakness, and talking about them should be encouraged as a sign of strength.
Role model that it’s OK to talk – By admitting ourselves that sometimes we struggle and need a little help from others, this shows our child that it’s OK to reach out.
Signs that a boy is struggling can sometimes be exhibited differently to girls.  Warning signs for boys may include the following:

  • Irritability, anger, and sensitivity to criticism
  • Physical pain – if someone is complaining of headaches or backaches with no obvious cause or sign of recovery, it could be a symptom of mental ill health
  • Reckless or risk taking behaviour – e.g. drinking alcohol or dangerous sports  

Don’t underestimate your role as a parent or carer:

In a recent Hertfordshire survey, we discovered that if teenage boys were worried about their mental health, almost half of them would seek support from their parent before anyone else.  However, often boys do worry about talking to their parents because they don’t want to burden them or are worried they won’t understand.  It can help your son know that you are available to them if you tell them that if they ever want to talk about anything, you are there.
You could also broaden your knowledge of mental health by completing the free MindEd e-learning: https://www.minded.org.uk/families

Helpful coping strategies:

Boys most commonly use physical activity and sports, and technology and video games as a coping strategy. Girls most commonly use music or chatting to friends.
There are lots of things that can help boost a young person’s wellbeing as well as potentially help them to cope when things go wrong.
The five ways to wellbeing is a useful tool to consider what more you and your child could be doing:

Image result for five ways of wellbeing logoConnect: Spend time with family and friends.  Enjoy doing things together and talking to each other.

Be Active:  It keeps you physically healthy, and makes you feel good

Keep Learning: Try something new. Try a new hobby, or learn about something just because it interests you.

Take Notice: Take a break to see how you feel. Relax and look around you or listen to music, take a few deep breaths.

Give: Do something for a friend or relation/adult, as well as making them feel good, it can make you feel good too!