Sarah Barr from the New Beginnings Counselling Service looks at five ways to look after our children's mental health.

 “Listening to the voice of the child and developing healthy relationships with peers and teachers are essential in creating a positive experience of school as well as their cognitive and emotional development” – Department of Education.

With many children and young people returning to school this week, I thought I would focus today’s article on their mental health.

The emotional well-being of children is just as important as their physical well-being. Which has been echoed by the Junior minister, Helen McEntee. She has revealed measures by the Irish government to implement mental health classes in our schools.

Schools play a vital role in the promotion of positive mental health in children and young people. Schools can also provide a safe and supportive environment for building life skills and resilience. It can be argued that this is needed more in today’s society. For today’s children and young people, digital culture and social media are an integral part of life. This has the potential to increase stress, anxiety and depression. Cyber bullying and airbrushed images of celebrities can lead to a lower self-esteem. This has a profound effect on children and young people’s mental health.

Mental health issues in children and young people can include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. This is often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.


So what can we do as parents, guardians or care-givers to help ensure positive mental health in our children and young people?

1. Physical health

Ensuring children are physically active, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly will contribute to a healthy mind. It will also increase self-confidence and self-belief.

2. Freedom

Giving children and young people, a safe level of freedom to make decisions will improve their assertiveness and independence. This leads to them to being more interested in life and gaining opportunities to enjoy themselves.

3. Family

Today family dynamics are changing and there are new definitions of what a family is. Extra support and reassurance can be needed for children to ensure they feel secure within their family. Every family is unique and important and this should be celebrated. A positive family life can help your child feel loved, trusted, understood, valued and safe.

4. School

Children and young people spend a considerable part of their young lives in school. It helps when a school promotes individuality and cares for their mental well-being. This nurtures their ability to learn and grow into well-rounded adults.

5. Community

Participating in local activities will develop their identity, while helping them recognise what they are good at. It can also install a sense of belonging in their family, school and community.

By offering children and young people a warm and open relationship they may feel more comfortable in expressing how they are feeling.

If you feel that your child is experiencing negative feelings that are affecting them from getting on with their lives, causing them distress or repetitive behaviour which is uncharacteristic, there is help available. A teacher, school nurse, school counsellor or educational psychologist may be able to help.  These professionals are able to refer a child to further help. Different professionals often work together in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)

~ Sarah.