How to recognise signs of mental ill health and what to do

This article was last updated on 20 October 2020

It is normal for young children to have some worries and anxiety as a result of starting primary school, but it is important for parents to recognise when this turns into something more. Child mental health expert Dr Pooky Knightsmith offers advice on how you can spot mental health problems in your child and how best to address them.

Pooky's tips

  • Check in with your child every day as this creates a feeling of openness.
  • Try not to ask questions that your child can answer with "I'm fine", as this shuts down the conversation.
  • Instead, ask open questions like, "What would you like me to know about today?" or "What was difficult today?".
  • Make it a two-way conversation, but try not to make it too much about you and definitely don't discuss adult concerns like your relationship, job, or money worries.
  • Look for changes in your child and how they speak to you.
  • Chat while you're walking or in the car. Not making eye contact is known to help children open up.
  • Don't expect too much of them while they're tired or hungry.
  • If you have serious concerns, make an appointment with your GP.
  • There are physical signs of mental ill health which you can share with your GP. Are they more withdrawn? Are they exhausted all the time? Have they had a loss of appetite?
  • It is better to go sooner than later.
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