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  • The Dulwich Family Consultation Service Team

1 Thing We Want Every Parent to Know About Their Child's Mental Health

As we look ahead at the start of the new year, we've found ourselves contemplating the demanding task of parenting in this present time. We want to share the benefits of our expertise as a new year gift to parents out there who are navigating these challenging times, and as a tribute to the ongoing challenge of raising children in such an uncertain context.


We recognise that many parents we meet understandably wish to locate an underlying cause for their child's psychological distress so that they can come up with an appropriate solution. We would like to share the importance of holding in your mind a bio-psycho-social explanation for mental health difficulties, which is how we approach our work in child and adolescent mental health services. We will explain how you can use this idea as a parent or carer below.






 

Biological Factors



By 'bio' we mean the biological factors which may predispose children and young people to struggle with their mental health, or exacerbate their difficulties, such as long term neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, or hormonal changes during puberty. It might even be something specific and particular to an episode, such as being hungry or tired.


How can I help my child with this?


As a parent it can be helpful to support your child to make sense of any conditions they may have or discussing the close relationship between the mind and body. For instance, if your child is diagnosed with ADHD, it can be helpful to spend some time researching symptoms and strategies for managing this together, thinking about what ADHD looks like in your child's life and how it overlaps with their mental health.


With developmental factors or those that fluctuate with daily living, we often find it helpful to notice that behaviour is unusual for a young person's character and ask them what they think might be going on and contributing to how they're feeling. We know it doesn't tend to get a brilliant response when we meet an angry outburst by offering suggestions like 'oh, you're probably just tired', so it is often better to give them the opportunity connect the dots between their physical and emotional states.



Psychological Factors


By 'psycho' we are referring to the child's individual and internal psychological experience; their own thoughts, personality, and 'inner world'. Does your child tend to be more pessimistic or shy? What beliefs and experiences in their lives may have contributed to this?


How can I help my child with this?


It is so important to communicate acceptance and appreciation of what makes your child unique, even if it can make their and your life difficult at times. We find it can be helpful to develop more positive stories about children's differences by reframing them in positive language where possible. We might reframe anger as passion for instance, so that a child can learn to befriend their passionate feelings and use them more appropriately. We also find it important to think about how they show different parts of their identities in different contexts, so even though the might seem quiet at home sometimes, perhaps they are the outgoing one in their group of friends. It's helpful not to pigeonhole children and young people into static roles, and give them space to experiment with different styles of behaving and relating as they develop and not hold them to one single, consistent version of themselves.



Social Factors


By social we mean the impact of the complex social and material reality your child inhabits across various systems, including their family and family culture, their school, their community, their friendship group, their class, race, religion, gender etc. Social factors contributing to mental health difficulties could include experiences of bullying, complex family relationships, or challenges related to parts of their social identity.


How can I help my child with this?


Show interest in your child's social world and curiosity about which parts of it feel important to them and why. It might be helpful to share with them your experiences of growing up, things that might be amusing to them or maybe, if appropriate, what you found hard to navigate as a child or teen. Many young people have strong beliefs that a difficulty with their mental health means something is fundamentally wrong with them and this can exacerbate feelings of isolation, shame and hopelessness. Instead, we find it helpful to encourage them to think about the wider contexts contributing to current hardships, such as the impact of the pandemic on their development or tricky elements of relationships.



 

We hope that the idea of a bio-psycho-social frame gives you some food for thought and some starting points for considering your child's needs. If you would like to discuss any parts of this framework further in relation to your child or family, please get in touch via our contact page or support@thedulwichfamilyconsultationservice.com


Take care, and wishing you a happy new year from The Dulwich Family Consultation Service Team.


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