Child Mental Health: Tips for NZ Parents
Accessing mental health support for children is a concern
When it comes to your child’s physical health, it’s usually common practice to seek help from your GP – but it’s not always as clear what to do when you think your child is struggling in other ways.
Our State of the Nation Parenting Survey found that “mental health” was among parents’ top three biggest concerns impacting their child’s health, with 18% of parents identifying it as their biggest health concern – this was behind “sleep” at 20% and equal to “diet and exercise”.
Alarmingly, many parents feel they aren’t able to access the level of support they need for their child’s mental health issues. The survey identified that 34% of parents wouldn’t know where to start in finding help, or believe there isn’t anything available in their area when it comes to addressing mental health concerns. 41% of parents said the same regarding sleep, and 39% around child behavioural issues.
Our top tips to address mental health concerns
- Give them the authority to make healthy choices
Let your kids have a go at choosing their own (or the family’s!) exercise activity – they’ll come up with something that they find fun, and it also encourages them to make their own healthy choices.
The same goes for food – give them a few healthy options to choose from, and then let them join in on the cooking process. As they grow, they’ll be more aware of the delicious healthy options available.
- Turn off the devices before bedtime
Device screens emit a blue light that delays the natural production of melatonin, which is a hormone critical for regulating sleep cycles and making us sleepy. When children (and us adults!) are exposed to blue light, it increases their levels of cortisol, keeping them awake and alert.
Make sure all devices (phones, tablets, TVs and computers) are switched off at least one hour before bedtime so the kids have a chance to wind down before they head off to dreamland.
- Talk to other parents about your struggles
Talking to other parents in your circle, or sharing your struggles with family may help you realise you’re not alone – and, in turn, you might pick up some helpful tips that have worked for others along the way.
- Realise it’s ok to seek professional help and additional support
Remember, it’s ok to ask for additional help – you don’t have to be an expert on everything your child is going through! At the bottom of this page there are a number of free resources that might help you address some of the concerns you have for your child, no matter what stage of life they’re currently in. Many organisations offer helplines too, so you can speak to a trained professional about your specific situations.
- Don’t forget to look after your own wellbeing too!
It’s common for parents to put their child before themselves. Our survey findings showed that more than two in five parents (44%) place less priority on their health than they do on their child’s. However, it’s just as important to look after yourself too – not only as a role model for proactive wellbeing, but also so you’re in the best condition to support your child’s needs.
If you need support for yourself, or know someone who does, check out Skylight or theMental Health Foundation, which both provide free resources for parents with children struggling with mental health issues.
Additional resources – ages 12 years and below
The needs of children in their developmental ages and in their teenage years can vary. It can be challenging for parents of young children to determine what behavioural issues are considered normal, as opposed to ones that may be an actual cause for worry. Making sure you are paying attention to signs and symptoms, and catching them early on can lead to better outcomes for your child.
If you are feeling concerned, a great place to start is to talk to your child’s kindergarten, pre-school or education facility. Additionally, speak with your GP or Plunket, and they can point you in the right direction. Mental health is often intertwined with physical health, so your GP may suggest you see a Paediatrician to consider your child’s health as a whole.
- Kids Health offers ways to identify and combat common sleeping problems.
Child behavioural issues
- The Government offer a range of support programmes for schools, teachers and parents to assist with child behavioural and learning challenges.
- For parents with children under five, The Ministry of Health, SKIP and Plunket have advice on a range of topics, including how to model good behaviour and dealing with tantrums.
Additional resources – ages 13 years and up
If you are worried about your teenager’s health or behaviours, there are countless resources available to help guide parents. Additionally, teenagers can easily access support themselves via a combination of apps, online or face-to-face services.
- SPARX is a self-help mental health program designed for teenagers, which uses a game-like portal to help those with mild to moderate depression learn various therapy strategies for coping, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
- The Mental Health Foundation has a dedicated section for depression in youth. The site contains a lot of information regarding symptoms, support groups, brochures and helplines you can access.
- YouthLine provides a number of free resources for youth and anyone supporting youth, as well as a confidential and non-judgemental telephone counselling service. Call 0800 37 66 33 anytime or text 234 between 8am and midnight.
- Rainbow Youth provide non-judgemental and accessible support around gender, sexuality and mental health. Call (09) 376 4155
- Safe to Talk provides free information for people affected by sexual harm, as well as helpline support with trained specialists. Call 0800 044 334, text 4334 or talk to them online anytime.
Additional resources – all ages
- The Ministry of Health has advise on healthy sleeping patterns for children, and their sleeping needs.
- 0800 What's Up provides a free, nationally-available counselling helpline and webchat service for kids and teenagers, so they have a safe space to talk about how they are feeling. Call 0800 942 8787 between noon and 11:00pm or chat to a counsellor online between 3:00pm and 10:00pm.
- Lifeline’s helpline and textline offers confidential support from qualified counsellors and volunteers. Call 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357
- For those living in rural regions of the country, The Rural Support Trust Helpline offers support from other locals, who understand some of the unique pressures of living rurally. Call 0800 787 254
Child behavioural issues
- Kiwi Families provide some practical advice and strategies in dealing with a range of behavioural issues, across a range of ages.
- The Ministry of Health offers advice and provide a list of services you can access to help with any situation.
See more parenting guides here:
- How to manage your child’s social media and screen time
- Parent Resource: Making the most of quality time with your kids
- Dealing with your child’s anxiety around exam time
- When and how to have the sex talk with your kids
Want to see the full nib State of the Nation Parenting Survey results? Click here to find out more.