You know your child better than anybody. You know what makes them happy, you know what they look like the second their feelings have been hurt, and you can see when they are uncomfortable in a situation. Over the course of their lives you have diligently watched them and how they respond to the things around them.
When your child was very young you probably watched their faces for which foods they liked, and watched as they used toys to make sense of the world around them. Now that your child is getting older you are probably watching out for other things - perhaps things likes shifts in their mood.
If you have noticed a shift in your child's mood - you'll want to monitor it. A mood shift can be a sign that your child is struggling with their mental health and since it is a difficult topic to talk about for many children it may be the only early indicators you're going to get.
Below are the top 5 tips parents have shared with us on how the notice, monitor, and address their child's mood shifts to prioritize their child's mental health.
1. Observe Changes in Behavior:
In one of our most popular articles; Bipolar Disorder in Youth and Young Adults FAQs with Dr. Benjamin Goldstein , Dr. Goldstein, the Director for the Centre of Youth Bipolar Disorder at CAMH said; "In terms of mental health problems in general, things we’re concerned about are changes in functioning and things that are atypical for that young person. Someone who is interested in school and now is no longer interested in school or someone who has changes in the quality or nature of their social or family relationships."
Especially with the transition back to school it's so important to pay attention to any significant shifts in your child's behavior. You may notice this in the form of more or less sleep, a drop in excitement in the things they once found exciting, withdrawal, irritability, or any other behavior that feel out of the ordinary.
This is not to say that the second you notice your child is upset about something you should jump into action. Like you, children have bad days so it is okay if they have a day that seems lower energy or is spent in their room. What you want to be on the lookout for is a prolonged period of time where your child's mood has been shifted.
2. Engage in Active Listening:
The first step is to notice - but what do you do next? Now comes the intimidating part of broaching the subject with your child. A great first step for many of the parents we speak with are for them to share their own mental health challenges with their child. If you have ever dealt with anxiety, depression, or any other mental health challenge during your life it can be a great way to start off this conversation to show them that not only are they not alone, you may understand a little bit of what they feel.
However you do end up starting this very important conversation make sure the tone of it is non-judgmental. Actively listen to their challenges and avoid dismissing their concerns. Never make them feel like they are being dramatic or making things bigger than they are. If you make your child feel like this, chances are they will avoid the topic again in the future.
3. Factor in school
During the school year your child spends a lot of their time at school. School can be a great indicator of how your child is doing in general. Keep an eye on their grades, how they talk about school, and their social life at school the best you can. If you notice a dip in their grades, a loss of excitement for a subject they used to love, or a decrease in stories about their friends it may be a good time to check in with them.
Also remember that your children's teachers get to see a side of your child that you don't. If you have a good relationship with one of your child's teacher it can be a great idea to ask them to keep you updated on anything they notice with your child. They may see a mood change before you do so getting them on your team to prioritize your child's mental health could be a huge asset.
4. Notice Physical Symptoms:
Mental and physical health go hand and hand. You may even be able to notice physical changes in your child if they are struggling with their mental health. Things like frequent headaches, stomachaches, or changes in appetite (either more or less food than normal) can be an indicator that your child needs support.
For a more comprehensive list on how anxiety in particular can impact a child's physical health check out the blog here!
5. Help your child thrive
If you have noticed mood shifts listed above in your child - don't panic. Many children struggle with their mental health and you are doing the exact right thing but noticing it and seeking information like this blog.
What you do want to do is get your child the support they need earlier on so they can address their mental health and thrive. There are no tips that are going to help your child more than seeking professional help for them.