Supporting a Child Who Has a Mental Health Condition
A mental health condition can make it harder for your child to manage their feelings and behaviors. They may struggle with things like doing schoolwork, making friends, or getting along with their siblings. This can be very stressful for your child and for you. But there are some things you can do to help.
- Find a counselor for your child.
Look for a counselor that your child feels safe with and trusts. You can ask your child's doctor for a referral.
- Learn about the condition.
Your child's doctor or counselor may be able to recommend books, podcasts, and websites. You could find out about:
- Symptoms of the condition.
- Your child's treatment options and the types of mental health professionals that can help.
- Mental health laws. For example, parents usually have the right to look at their child's medical records.
- Find community resources.
Examples include support groups, treatment centers, and local crisis hotlines. To find resources:
- Talk to your child's doctor or counselor, or check with your health insurance.
- Ask a family member or friend who has a child with a mental health condition.
- Contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). You can call the NAMI HelpLine (1-800-950-6264) or go online (www.nami.org/help) to chat with a trained volunteer.
- Advocate for your child.
Your child's counselor will likely want to help. This can include:
- Telling your child's teacher about the condition and asking how the school can help.
- Communicating often with your child's teacher.
- Asking for help from supportive family and friends.
- Be thoughtful about how you engage with your child.
Here are some things you can do:
- Try to respond calmly when your child is upset. If you're feeling emotional, it's okay to take time to yourself.
- Listen closely when your child shares their feelings.
- Be understanding of the challenges that your child faces because of the condition.
- Emphasize that the condition is an illness and not your child's fault.
- Avoid focusing too much on the condition. Instead, focus on what you love and enjoy about your child.
- Teach your child ways to manage the condition.
Encourage good self-care like getting enough sleep, eating a variety of healthy foods, and being active. Work on healthy ways to manage feelings, like deep breathing, playing with a pet, or doing a hobby. Try to set an example by practicing these things yourself. To learn more, work with your child's counselor or take parenting classes.
- Take care of yourself.
Find a counselor for yourself if you need support. You can ask your doctor or your child's counselor for a referral. Make time for yourself. And do things that you enjoy, such as a favorite activity or spending time with a close friend.
If you feel that your child might hurt themself, get help right away. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Or text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine