ACP member, Katie Argent gives advice for worried parents about child mental health

ACP member, Katie Argent, writes for the Guardian about children who suffer from severe emotional difficulties.

"These are the children for whom general interventions, such as school mentoring, social skills groups and community support do not help or do not help enough. These are the children parents, carers, professionals and communities are most worried about."

She goes on to say that "All children and young people experience powerful anxiety, confusion, distress and rage. Living in a family, making relationships with peers and making mental connections in order to learn are emotional matters. Experiences of disappointment and frustration, at ordinary levels, are as important as achievement and satisfaction. Play is one way children explore, and try to make sense of and communicate their emotional life. Talking is another. And children usually show how they are feeling through their behaviour.

She adds, "it is puzzling or alarming if a child or young person is behaving oddly, if they seem unusually upset, withdrawn, aggressive, controlling or uninhibited in a way that’s hard to understand. Adults can also find themselves repeatedly responding oddly to a child’s behaviour – becoming irritated in an uncharacteristic way, for example – which can indicate that something is up."

Talking is key
Argent advocates spending more time talking to children and to each other. "Parents talking to each other, with teachers or other professionals, and putting their own observations and thoughts together can help to build a fuller picture. If parents and teachers can notice there’s a problem and hold their nerve, they often observe that a child’s temporary behaviours – such as sleeping, toileting or eating difficulties, problems with concentrating at school or with friendships, or low or overexcited mood – can be understood as being connected to where they are developmentally, to events at home or at school or changing circumstances in the family. Seeing the behaviour in context can reduce alarm for the adults, which can help with talking about things. Helping children with complex emotional difficulties starts with noticing that something’s the matter." 

However, says Argent, "when trauma, including traumatic or repeated loss, dislocation, abuse or neglect is part of the child’s experience, they are more likely to find day-to-day relationships hard to manage. Some children, families and young people have complex difficulties that persist.  For these children, a referral to Camhs, usually through a GP, school or social worker, is the sensible next step."

Read the full article here