Supporting parents and families: the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people

What can parents and families do?

Page last updated: March 2004

Parenting and being part of a family are very important to the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.

You may not realise it, but you are already protecting your children's mental health and wellbeing just by:

  • showing your affection, interest and care for your children's wellbeing
  • encouraging your children to talk about their feelings and to work out problems even when it is difficult
  • comforting your children when they are distressed or anxious
  • spending time with your children, working on projects and taking part in activities together
  • being aware of your children's needs and differences at different stages of development
  • providing consistent care and avoiding erratic or harsh discipline
  • spending time individually with each of your children, and
  • trying not to involve your children in your arguments and seeking help early if you are not able to resolve conflicts between family members.
Helping children and young people who have an emotional or mental health problem starts with listening. Acceptance and belonging are very important. Encourage your children to talk to someone they trust and be ready to listen yourself, but do not force them to talk. Praise and notice their achievements, especially small ones, and avoid criticising and pointing out shortcomings. Try to work out when your children need space and when they would benefit from company, and do things with them that they enjoy. Don't forget to care for yourself and ask for help when you need it.

If a young person is receiving professional help for an emotional or mental health problem you can still play a critical role in their recovery. To help a young person at such a time, let them know you care about their wellbeing and are there to support them.

Create a calm atmosphere at home and reduce family conflict, provide healthy food, encourage your children to do things they enjoy and remove possible means of self-harm.

Some young people will refuse all help or will not acknowledge they have a problem. If so, you should seek advice and assistance on your own. If the situation seems serious, seek help promptly. This could mean breaking a confidence but it is sometimes necessary.