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Support for parents and guardians

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As a parent or guardian of a child or young person, you play a crucial role in their health, development, and wellbeing. This experience can be very rewarding, and it can also be challenging. 

As children grow and develop, they usually go through fairly typical developmental stages. 

When children are young, the adults in their lives are responsible for everything they need, including food, shelter, comfort and love. Children thrive in safe and secure environments, where adults are calm, warm, and responsive to their needs.  

As children grow into the pre-teen and teenage years, they start to become more independent. But this is also a difficult phase for young people, as their brains and bodies go through rapid changes. It is a time when they are trying to figure out who they are, and their friendships become even more important to them. This can often involve experimenting and maybe taking more risks than usual.

It’s important to remember that teenagers still need parent and family support; it just looks a little different from when they were younger. They need your love and acceptance, and for you to provide a safe and predictable environment for them, even if they aren’t always able to say this.

Mental health and wellbeing challenges often begin during childhood and adolescence. As a parent or guardian, you are in a position to provide support and help to problem-solve and navigate tough times. You can also notice when something more serious might be going on and help your child find the right support. 

Understanding young people’s mental health issues

This video talks about the common mental health issues faced by young people, how to approach young people and talk to them when they don't seem like themselves, and how to get them the help they need.

Talking to a young person about how they’re feeling

Approaching the topic of mental health and wellbeing with a young person you care for can be daunting. They may not know how to talk about what they’re feeling, or they may feel too embarrassed or may be worried about how you will respond. 

As someone close to them, you may often be the first person to notice if something isn’t quite right. They may have started behaving differently, acting out or becoming withdrawn. You might see changes in their eating, sleep patterns, or other habits and routines. 

However small the signs may be, if you feel that something isn’t right, it’s important to try and start a gentle conversation about it. By engaging and showing your support, you can help them take the first steps towards improving their mental health and wellbeing.

Tips for starting the conversation with a young person

To help make your young person feel comfortable and confident enough to open up to you, keep the following things in mind:

Sensitive conversations can lead to frustration and heated emotions. They may also be reluctant to share what they’re feeling. Being calm and encouraging can make it easier for them to talk about it. You might also need to reach out a few times if they don’t respond on your first try.

The young person might be reluctant to having a sit-down discussion face to face about what they’re going through. Easing into it with general and open questions while doing another activity such as driving or walking can help the discussion come easier.

Sometimes it can be hard to know how best to help. Some issues may be too sensitive or private for a young person to want to discuss with you, and that’s okay. When this happens, you can help them find the right person or professional to talk to. You can help them make the appointment or phone call and go with them if they want you to.

Try and understand their perspective. Sometimes what’s worrying them may not seem such a big deal to you, but it is to them. If you can, hold off on any comments or judgment about how they are reacting or anything they may have done to contribute to the situation. You can talk to them about their decisions another time when they are feeling less vulnerable).  When they are opening up, what they need most is your love and acceptance. Listening to them and validating their emotions will help them feel more comfortable sharing what’s going on with you.

It can take a lot of time and work to get to a point where you can start the conversation. It can take even longer to get to a point where you feel you can start fixing or helping. That’s okay. Spending time together, taking an interest, and checking in regularly are the best ways to create a safe and comfortable environment for an open conversation.

Read more on starting the conversation

7 ways to support a young person’s healthy headspace

One of the most effective ways family and friends can support young people to look after their mental health is to model healthy habits.
There are many things that family and friends can do to help a young person build their mental fitness.

Being kind to yourself and practising self-care

Parents, guardians and carers can experience poor physical health, anxiety, depression, and other challenges as a result of their caring role. You might feel overwhelmed constantly trying to stay on top of competing priorities. You could be caring for a young person with mental health issues while also caring for other children and family members and holding down a full-time job. 

It is important that you don't neglect your own mental health. It isn’t selfish to take a break or to take time to meet your own needs. If you don't look after your own wellbeing, you likely won’t be able to support someone else. Caring for yourself ensures that you remain healthy, and it sets a good example for the young person you are caring for.

Be kind to yourself. Try to imagine yourself as a friend who’s going through what you are. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to them. Try and share the responsibilities you have. Accept help from family and friends. Call support services and talk and connect with others going through similar things. Also remember to celebrate the small wins. Taking time to acknowledge the good things can improve your outlook and give you hope.

Learn more about looking after yourself while supporting someone else.


Not sure where to start, or need help now?

If you are in crisis, anxious, or depressed, and want to talk to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you are a carer and you need emergency respite, call Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737.

If it's not an emergency, ReachOut Parents can help you:

  • connect with the Online Community Forum to learn from and share your story with other parents or guardians
  • access free and confidential one-on-one support with a professional parenting and family coach, via phone chat

Accepting support from others

We all need help from time to time. And when you’re going through a tough time, it’s good to seek and accept support wherever and whenever you can. Identifying a few key people you can trust, rely on, and share what you’re going through is important. Talking to people who have had similar experiences can be especially helpful.

If you don’t have someone to talk to, there are websites, forums, and other online resources that can give you support and guidance on caring for someone. Browse the resources below to find the right support option for you.