Top 3 questions – Helping kids return to school and sports, strategies to check in with teens, and finding support

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ruth Vine, answers the top three questions you've been asking on our social accounts around mental health.

Date published:
General public

Hello. My name's Ruth Vine, I'm a psychiatrist, I'm the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Mental Health in the Department of Health. Thank you for being with me today. Today I thought we'd answer some of the questions that people have about their children, and their children in this particular environment, so in relation to that, here we are, at the end of February almost, and so the school year has well and truly started, and I wanted to just start out by paying, giving some acknowledgement to the teachers across Australia who've done it, really, so tough, whether it was home-schooling for periods of time in 2020 and 2021, but also getting back into the classroom with all of the added impositions of mask-wearing and some pretty anxious kids and parents, so...

My first question. "My fourth-grader is really struggling to return to school and sporting activities. "What can I do to help her?" So, as I said, most children, and indeed their parents, were pretty excited about returning to school, but it's not at all uncommon for some to have some anxiety about that, and uncertainty. Getting readjusted to schools and school routines does take time. It's really important as a parent that you give your child time to be able to talk through what they might be fearful of, and to work through what they can do about those fears. I mean I hope that all of our young people who are eligible for vaccinations are proceeding through those vaccinations, the numbers so far have been very good, but I know it's still a work-in-progress. So letting them talk through what they might be fearful of, giving them some options, I think, clearly, making sure your child is used to wearing a mask and notice the sorts of situations where mask-wearing would be helpful to them, is really important, and I think also, really important to know that you can reach out to their teacher as well, because the teachers will also have some insights into how the classrooms might have changed, how they're managing particular activities, so get some help from your teacher, talk to other parents, but particularly, give your child time, alongside the certainty that school is a really good thing, and returning to school is a really good thing, and is going to happen. Thank you.

The next question I have is, "I know my teenager is worried about the future, "but they spend all their time in their room. How can I check that they're OK? "And that if they're not willing to talk." Well, we've all lived through adolescence, and we know that adolescents are moody, are moody people and, you know, that their ability or willingness to engage with different parts of their family or their community is pretty up and down during those years, and it's not at all uncommon for young people going through adolescence to disappear into their rooms and for parents to be worried about what they're doing. I think in may ways social media has both made that retreat more likely, but also made it more difficult for parents to feel confident about what their children are doing, who they're talking to, and what they're accessing. Because much as possible, I think it's, it's really important to try and maintain a level of engagement. And sometimes it's easier to have a talk with your adolescent child not at your behest, but when you happen to be doing something together. Sort of opportunistic conversation that might happen around cooking a meal together or driving to school, or going for a walk with the dog, using those very informal times as your indirect catch-ups. So I think that's important. I think if you are really worried and particularly, of course, if your child stops going to school or seems to be really unhappy, then you can tell them how to reach out for help, and there are some really useful places like ReachOut, is a really useful service for young people. Kids Helpline has got a special component for kids over 12, but there are Beyond Blue, and other platforms, are equally helpful. So, and if they won't do that, then there are also resources for you as a parent, to sort of get some tips, and I would, of course, always encourage you to use your social networks and make sure you're looking after yourself, because your adolescent will pick up what's going on with you, very acutely. Thank you.

The third question that I have, are... "What are my options for support if I'm concerned about my child, or teenager," and as I said, it is normal for young people, particularly adolescents, to be moody, to, you know, be disinterested in you as a parent or family, and to be, you know, they're going through their process of forming their self-identity and developing their own, sort of... understanding of themselves and their society. But, if things go on for a while, for more than a few weeks, or if particular things happen like, as I said earlier, they stop going to school or seem to fall away from their friends, then it is absolutely appropriate to think 'what sort of help do I need' and where should I go for children and young people, particularly those over 12, then options like going to Headspace or e-Headspace, all the Headspace chat rooms, is certainly something that you could put forward as an option for them, and if, you know, you can't, sort of, start a conversation, however informally and opportunistically, then there might be other people that your child would talk to. Sometimes children are much better at talking to their grandparents or their, you know, their aunts and uncles, than they are to their parents, at times. So, you know, use what you can. There is also a confidential counselling service for young people, Kids Helpline for teens. The number there is 1800 551 800. And as I said, if you're really worried, and you feel stuck, then it's also a good time for you to talk to your GP and see what resources might be available for people in Victoria or Sydney or the ACT. Going to Head to Health is a really good option, and that's 1800 595 212.

Thank you very much. Bye.

Top 3

  1. My fourth-grader is really struggling to return to school and sporting activities – what can I do to help her?
  2. I know my teenager is worried about the future but they spend all their time in their room. How can I check that they’re OK if they are not willing to talk?
  3. What are my options for support if I am concerned about my child or teenager?

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