Want to help your children deal with stress and adversity? It’s easier than you think
Helping our children navigate the stresses and strains of daily life is more important than ever. Figures released in November last year by NHS Digital show a worrying rise in young people’s mental health problems; sadly, my experience as a GP confirms this. One in eight children aged between five and 19 in England has a diagnosable mental health condition; the prevalence of emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression, has risen by 48% since 2004. “The pressures young people face range from school stress, bullying and worries about job and housing prospects, to concerns around body image,” says Emma Saddleton, helpline manager at the charity YoungMinds.
While we may not be able to remove all these challenges, we can pass on skills to help young people cope with stress and adversity. “It’s what’s known as resilience,” Saddleton says. “The ability to overcome difficult experiences and be shaped positively by them.” Our brains respond to the information around us, so resilience can be taught, modelled and nurtured at any age. “By doing this, through strong support networks and encouraging communication, we can help young people understand when they feel down and know what they can do to make themselves feel better,” she adds.
As a parent myself – I have a son of eight and a daughter of six – it’s something that’s high on my agenda, and I’ve discovered some effective techniques. Crucially, they don’t require you to overhaul your parenting style, but simply to make a few tweaks that will help your children thrive.
Have one-on-one time with each child, without distractions
I have a full-on job, two school-age children, and an elderly mother to care for, so I understand that we’re all busy; I’m not trying to pile on the guilt. But I’ll never forget what my daughter, then four, said one day. We were working on a jigsaw, but I kept nipping to the kitchen to check my phone. When I rejoined her for the third or fourth time, she rightly observed, “Daddy, you’re not really here, are you?”