Children Under Five
There is no minimum age for struggling with mental health. Even if your child is under five, you can still build a healthy relationship now and take early steps to prepare them for the world, giving them a head-start when it comes to future happiness.
What signs should I look out for?
Unlike teenagers, younger children can’t articulate their feelings and won’t show you the classic symptoms that we have come to associate with mental health issues. But that doesn’t mean the signs aren’t there if you look – whether that means tantrums, sleep issues, struggling to feed, suffering from gastric trouble or appearing to be afraid, upset or anxious.
To have enough energy for the day ahead, toddlers need around 13 hours’ sleep (this includes naps) while pre-schoolers should have between 11 and 12 hours. Of course, all under-fives have trouble sleeping from time-to-time, but be vigilant if this starts to become unmanageable, with your child refusing to settle, repeatedly waking up, displaying anxiety about going to sleep or suffering from nightmares. For most children, bed-wetting stops between the ages of two and five – so if your child is still having accidents after the age of six, or starts wetting the bed unexpectedly, speak to your health visitor or visit your GP.
Tantrums are common in young children and shouldn’t immediately be cause for concern. This is simply your child’s way of dealing with powerful emotions before they develop language. However, if the tantrums are becoming frequent and prolonged – or you worry that your child could do harm – don’t hesitate to ask your health visitor, nursery teacher or GP for advice.
What can I do to help my child?
The good news is that by supporting your child using some simple strategies, you can soothe them and leave them feeling calm and loved.
When you find a routine that works, it’s so important to stick to it. Young children thrive on consistency, and you’ll find that if you lay down clear boundaries – and enforce them in a firm-but-friendly fashion – your kids will start to learn what’s expected of them. All the adults in the house should learn the routine, and back each other up – even in the face of fierce resistance! On the flipside, be sure to recognise and praise your child’s good behaviour and success.
No doubt about it: parenting is frustrating. But always keep in mind that you are the adult in charge and know what’s best for your child. Take a deep breath, learn to laugh at the situations that test you, and don’t give in to your child’s demands.
No parent is perfect – and there’s no shame in taking a step back from your relationship with your child and analysing whether there could be something deeper causing their behaviour. Perhaps you’re not giving them enough attention, or failing to lay down the law. Maybe a food allergy is behind their issues – or it might even be that they have hearing problems or learning difficulties. Don’t rule anything out.
There are plenty of benefits when you join a parenting course or group in your area. For starters, you’ll quickly realise that you’re not the only parent out there struggling – and with the camaraderie and the endless tips from your peers, your confidence will grow and your relationship with your child will move forward. Ask your local doctor’s surgery or council for details of organisations nearby.
Don’t feel guilty or self-indulgent about treating yourself when a little breathing space opens up in your schedule. Parenting is tough, and by resetting with a coffee or a shopping trip with friends, you’ll give yourself the positive mental energy to sail through the next challenge.
Take a calm, considered approach to your child’s issues and you may find that things improve without the need for external help. But if the problems persist for any length of time – or get worse – don’t hesitate to speak to your health visitor, GP or nursery head. That’s what they’re there for.
TIC+ offers a Parent Support & Advice Line. If your child lives in Gloucestershire and is between the ages of 0 and 25 and you, as a parent or carer, would like support, please get in touch. To make it easier to reach out for help we offer a choice of ways to contact us on Freephone 0800 6525675 or web-chat. Whichever option you choose, there is no need to make an appointment, drop-in anytime during our open hours.
Alternatively, if you would like to arrange counselling for a young person who lives in Gloucestershire and is aged 9-21, they can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. All they, or someone they trust, needs to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to give us some details so we can arrange an appointment.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!