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Supporting your child’s mental health

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Wellbeing & Mental Health Wellbeing for kids & teens

No matter how old your child is, it’s important to pay attention to their mental health. Here you’ll find tips to support them to stay happy and secure. 

How to emotionally support your baby

All babies have their own personalities and they'll communicate what they need and feel through their behaviour. All babies need support from their caring adults to feel okay while they experience changes in their emotional world.

As individuals, babies will pick up on stress and communicate this in their own ways, so it's important to look after your mental health first. If your baby is crying more than usual, sleeping or acting differently or is looking for more comfort than they usually do, they could be picking up on your anxiety. So however you may be feeling, it’s important to respond to your baby as usual and to try and stick to their usual pattern for sleeping and feeding. This might be tricky, but the more predictable life feels, the less disturbed they will be. 

Mother smiling at her baby

Mother smiling at her baby

Listen to your baby and offer comfort with soothing words and hugs when they need it. Our section on wellbeing for wee ones has lots of advice on engaging with your baby so they feel connected to you, safe and cared for.

Most importantly, you need to look after your own wellbeing. This will help you to manage your worries and will help you to interact with your baby in a calm and reassuring way.

How to emotionally support your toddler

Mother and baby playing together

Mother and baby playing together

Routines are as important for toddlers as they are for babies, so trying to keep to the same bed times and keeping mealtimes regular really helps them stay calm. Getting outside and keeping active are also great ways to boost their mood – and tire them out for bedtime! Make time to have a chat with them – a few words and a wee hug can also make a big difference. Our page on connecting with your toddler has more advice on this, while our page on making life easier has tips for getting into a routine that can help everyone feel more safe and secure.

Supporting your older children

Older children may have found things particularly hard over the past few years – especially school-aged children. Make sure they know that they can always talk to you about anything that’s bothering them.

Try and keep them active. Getting outdoors and burning off energy will do wonders for their mood – and yours! Whether it's a family walk, a trip to the park or an exercise video in front of the TV, it's important that they exercise. If you have a garden, let them play outside as much as possible. You'll find lots of ideas for getting out and getting active here.

Our section on supporting your teen's mental health has more advice. You may also find the following resources useful:

  • These activity cards from Play Scotland have lots of ideas for helping children learn to relax, express themselves and explore their emotions, practise listening and problem solving and use their imaginations.
  • This self-care kit from the NHS has lots of ideas and activities for children, including mindful colouring, laughing out loud, breathing exercises, an emotional check-in, ways to express thoughts, a self soothe box and more creative activities. It was created during the pandemic but has lots of tips that apply more generally.
  • You can find lots of online resources for supporting your child’s mental wellbeing here.
  • For a more in-depth look at how you can support your child or teen’s mental health, you can sign up for a free course from NHS Scotland and SilverCloud. You can find out more about the courses available here and sign up for free using the code Scotland2020.

Why playing is important

child playing with dad

child playing with dad

It might not seem like it when they’re being noisy and making a mess, but playing is a really important thing for your child’s mental wellbeing. Playing is a crucial part of how children’s minds develop and how they make sense of the confusing world around them. Giving them the space to play and to let their imaginations run wild will help them cope with challenges and keep them emotionally and physically healthy. Our page on helping your child through play has more information.

Helping children deal with negative thoughts

The way we think affects the way we feel, so negative thoughts can make us feel bad. No one wants to think negative thoughts. The trouble is, they tend to pop into our heads of their own accord! And this goes for children as well as adults. Here are some exercises you can try with your kids to help them relax and deal with negative thoughts. You could try using this 'emotions wheel' with your child to help them express how they’re feeling.

Tips to help your children stop worrying

If you're concerned about your children’s mental health

Speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor if you're worried about your child’s mental health. The NHS Inform website also has help available. The NSPCC website has helpful advice on spotting signs of depression or anxiety in children. The Young Minds website also has advice and information on helping your children deal with anxiety.

Tips for supporting your child

In this short film, psychologist Professor Cathy Richards shares her top tips for helping to support your children if they’re feeling anxious.

The Solihull Approach Online courses cover a range of topics and ages from pregnancy to 19+ years. These courses are for everyone, for everyday parenting. They don’t tell you how to parent, that’s up to you. Instead they offer a way to understand what might be going on and space to think about how you want to respond. You can find out more on the Solihull website and access the courses for free using the code TARTAN.

Talking to your child about money

It’s not unusual for children and young people to worry about money, just as adults do. They may be worried because they’ve picked up on things you’ve said, or because they’ve heard about the cost of living crisis on the news. Our page on talking to your child about current events has advice on how to approach this, and you can also find helpful advice on this page on talking to your child about money on the YoungMinds website.

If a family member is in hospital

If someone in your family or anyone special to your child has to go into hospital, this can be scary for them and you may be worried about how to talk to them about it. This guide from ICU Steps is great for helping children understand what happens when someone goes into intensive care, and has practical things you can do together to make the situation less scary. ICU Steps also produce a useful guide for parents, to help you support your child if a family member is in hospital.

Last updated: 22 Feb, 2024