Children’s Mental Health & Parenting
Parents, guardians, and carers play a huge role in teaching children and young people how to understand and manage their emotions as they grow up. By openly discussing mental health and making it a normal part of daily conversations, parents can help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems and build a positive, trusting relationship with the child where openness and honesty are foregrounded.
Unfortunately, as a society, we still have a long way to go when it comes to reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. People are afraid to open up about their emotions, and often don’t voice their true feelings until it’s too late. The harsh reality is that people still feel a lot of shame about having mental health problems, even though Mind state that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.
As parents, talking about mental wellbeing early on can help reduce stigma and encourage young people to speak out about any issues or problems they are facing. This can help to build a better future for young people who will be better equipped to handle life’s challenges and openly discuss and listen to their feelings and emotions.
Mental health statistics
To help support children with their mental health, it can be useful to know the wider facts and statistics surrounding Mental Health in England.
First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that mental health exists on a spectrum. We all have mental health, whether it’s healthy or unwell. Additionally, mental health is not fixed. Many children, and adults, will move along the spectrum during their life as they are faced with different challenges and situations. Mental health is fluid, and it’s all about finding the balance in life to ensure your mental health is at the best it can be.
In terms of prevalence among children, YoungMinds states that 1 in 6 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 have symptoms of a common mental disorder such as depression or anxiety. This is an alarming rise from 1 in 10 which was recorded in 2004. 1 in 8 children actually have a diagnosable mental health disorder, this works out to around 3 children in every classroom.
Centre for Mental Health states that 70% of children with autism have at least one mental health condition and LGBTQ+ people have a higher rate of mental health problems. Left untreated and ignored, these issues can have a serious effect on a child’s life. Pupils who have a mental health problem are more likely to be excluded from school than their peers. The Department for Education stated that in 2016, one in five students with an identified social, emotional, or mental health difficulty received at least one fixed period expulsion. Further research suggests that these expulsions have a major detrimental effect on children, and can be linked to long term mental health problems.
What can I do as a foster carer?
Mental health can affect every aspect of a person’s life and it may be hard to nail down the exact cause of the issues. The best way to be there for your child and to support them is to create a nurturing environment where the child’s feelings are always listened to and open and honest communication is made possible.
Some simple parenting steps that aid good mental health are:
- Making sure your child knows they are loved and that you are proud of their achievements – We all know that parenting is stressful and there can be hectic days when you’re running around, without a spare second to think. Even in times like this, a word of praise, encouragement, or assurance is important for comforting the child and ensuring they feel seen.
- Be clear about your expectations and what is and isn’t acceptable – Clearly communicating what type of behaviour you expect helps to establish a strong relationship that is built on communication.
- Be a role model – Foster Carers make mistakes. This is to be expected, nobody is perfect. Set a good example by being open and honest about your own feelings and how you cope with them. It’s okay to have a bad day, sharing this with your child lets them know that this is normal and that everyone can have ups and downs.
Concerned about your child’s mental health?
If you have serious concerns about your child’s mental health, you should always seek professional help. You can speak with your GP who will offer non-judgemental advice and support and they may be able to signpost you to other services within your community to help you.
If you’ve noticed a child presenting unusual behaviour, be aware of it, but remember that it can be short-lived. Children handle stressful situations differently and disturbed behaviour such as trouble sleeping, tantrums, and crying, may be a temporary reaction to a stressful situation.
The best thing you can do is initiate communication and let the child know that you will listen to their problems, judgement-free. Ask them if they are feeling stressed, upset, or angry about a situation. Let them know that these feelings are valid and need to be discussed. Always use language that is appropriate for the age of the child and the seriousness of the situation. For example, say your child lashed out and said something cruel to another child. Instead of shouting at them, you may say “When you said that to your friend, you looked really angry, what is making you feel that way?”. This encourages the child to consider their emotional reaction and the reasons why they behaved that way.
If you have older children, or perhaps teenagers, it can be harder to have meaningful conversations if they are acting distant and standoffish. Let them know that you are concerned and that you are there to listen and support them if they need it. You could try sending a text or a phone call if in-person communication is challenging. You should also ask them if there’s anything they need from you, maybe they would like some time set aside to chat, an activity together, or anything that they think might help.
Looking after yourself
You can’t be the best possible foster carer if you aren’t looking after yourself too. Remember that you are human and you have your own needs and emotions too. If you are feeling stressed, this can impact your relationship with your child and put undue stress onto them too. Take time for yourself, and ensure you have a good support system surrounding you and always discuss your feeling with your Supervising Social Worker .
As a foster carer, it can feel overwhelming sometimes, but remember that people are here to support you. Friends, family, teachers, your GP, as well as mental health charities like YoungMinds are there to provide a network of support to parents.
It’s important that you’re not hard on yourself if your child is facing challenges. Feelings of guilt and shame about asking for help often stop foster carer from reaching out.
Foster care and mental health
In a conversation about mental health and children and young people, one significant group needs to be acknowledged: looked after children in care and their foster carers. Foster parents share their lives with extremely vulnerable children and teenagers, offering them a loving place to stay when there has been a breakdown in their birth family relationship. For these children, foster families offer a safe sanctuary and a chance at a happier and brighter future.
However, caring for children who have had some of the most difficult early childhood experiences can be extremely challenging. Children come into care for different reasons, but some of the most common are neglect, abuse, and abandonment. Inevitably, these negative situations have a massively detrimental effect on a child’s mental health and can cause them to have low self-esteem as well as behavioural issues.
Foster carers play an extremely important role, not only do they provide a safe home, but they also provide a nurturing environment where they can help the child or young person to come to terms with the trauma they have experienced. Foster carers help to contextualise the child’s feelings and validate their emotions, making them feel loved, nurtured, and safe.
The Centre for Mental Health states that 3 quarters of children in care have a diagnosable mental health problem. The mere act of being separated from your parents at a young age is enough to cause severe feelings of guilt, shame, and distress for children. These children are therefore at a much higher risk of having poor mental health. If tools are not provided to the child to help them engage with and understand their trauma, these feelings of distress can develop into adulthood and have a negative impact on their future life chances.
1 in 3 adult mental health conditions relate directly to adverse childhood experiences. Whilst nothing can be done to change the negative experiences children may have had before they were taken into care. Carers can do their best to help young people manage feelings and emotions concerning their trauma. Therapeutic care can repair some of the harm that children have experienced, and it is this kind of care that fostering services provide.
Therapeutic foster care
At Fusion Fostering, we are dedicated to providing therapeutic care services for the children and young people. Therapeutic foster care allows carers to provide a stable, nurturing environment in their home, working with the child’s social workers and other professionals to deliver the best possible care for the child’s individual needs.
All carers at Fusion Fostering receive full training and will be educated about the meaning of therapeutic foster care and how to put the principle into practice. Therapeutic foster carers provide care from a mental health perspective and will need to know details about the child’s history and past. This allows them to care for the child in the most effective and sensitive manner according to their needs.
Support for foster carers
Providing a loving, caring, and nurturing environment for a child who has had to deal with extremely challenging situations can be very difficult. Children may present difficult behaviour such as tantrums, fighting, being distant, refusing to communicate, and could be defiant . Whilst dealing with this behaviour is part of the role, nobody expects foster carers to do it alone!
All Fusion carers have 24 hour access to their own Senior Supervising Social Worker. They are there to help you with any issues, worries, or concerns and to be an open ear for you when you are struggling or need reassurance. This service is available all day, every day, 365 days a year!
There are also external charities that are dedicated to providing help and support to foster carers. The Fostering Network is the UK’s leading foster care charity; their website offers many resources for foster parents and they also have a 24 hour legal helpline and a stress counselling helpline! Visit their website for more information and phone numbers.
Another option is FosterTalk, a leading provider of professional support and advice for carers. All Fusion carers have a subscription to Foster Talk, giving them the chance to gain impartial advice and guidance.
Promote mental health and make a difference
If you’re interested in encouraging positive mental health and want to make a difference to a vulnerable young person’s life, fostering could be the ideal career for you! You don’t need any prior experience of childcare and you do not need to be a parent yourself, you just need to be open and willing to tackle the challenges that come with the role. That being said, it’s a hugely rewarding role too! For more information or for answers to any questions you may have, you can contact our advisors at Fusion Fostering by calling 03301 239 355.
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