children's mental health
health,  parenting

Children’s mental health: Why we need to stop and listen

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week and, at a time when the world is full of such chaos and madness, it’s important to stop and listen to the worries and concerns of the young people in our lives.

The war in Ukraine and threats of a nuclear apocalypse from Russia; the cost of living crisis and financial pressures on families; the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and the bewildering disappearance of a mother in Lancashire – at the moment, a single week’s news is enough to cause any of us anxiety. How must it be for those too young to fully understand?

My 12 year-old son, for one, is terrified at the prospect of nuclear war. After briefly seeing a piece on the news yesterday, he dived on to his phone and a short while later presented me with a map featuring concentric circles.

“Where are we Dad?” he asked, before I pointed to a spot just inside the largest of the circles.

“Just about there. Why?”

“Brilliant, we’re right in the blast zone. If London gets nuked we’re going to be vaporised.”

He was genuinely worried and was not placated by my attempts to reassure him that there’s nothing to worry about, mainly because he knew, that I knew, that there is something to worry about. Not in an imminent end of the world, let’s move to a bunker way, but certainly in a noone really knows what’s going to happen way.

Be honest and open

There comes a point when a parent’s reassurance and the standard ‘don’t worry, it’s not going to happen,’ just doesn’t cut the mustard. Children aren’t stupid, they know that sometimes you don’t have the answers that they want to hear and that you can’t reassure them. Any attempt to do so and they just think you’re treating them like a child and lying to them.

So what can you do? Well, sometimes all you can do is listen and last night I changed tack and just sat and listened to his worries. I reflected on a similar time from my own childhood in the early 1980s when the Cold War and the heightened tensions between the US and the Soviet Union brought renewed fears of nuclear war. I remembered being scared then too, and we spoke about how scary these things are.

I had no magic answers, but talking helped and, before long, we had moved on, swapping thoughts of nuclear apocalypse for thoughts of FA Cup glory as we turned on the TV to watch Fulham beat Sunderland in the Fourth Round.

So, if there’s one piece of advice I can offer to dads this Children’s Mental Health Week, it’s to admit, sometimes, that you don’t have the answers, to just listen and to hope Fulham make it through the next round.

February Round-Up: Here’s what else we talked about in February

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