The developmental periods that characterise childhood and adolescence are filled with significant physical, social and emotional changes, combined with the acquisition of knowledge, skills and abilities that pave the way for a fulfilling and meaningful adult life. Considering the breadth and rapid rate of these developments, it is inevitable that many young people face a diverse range of challenges as they navigate the transition through childhood and adolescence, including regulating distressing emotions, developing their independence, finding their identity, coping with stress and anxiety, developing social skills, and building close relationships.
For some young people, the transition through childhood and adolescence is also accompanied with challenges included but not limited to anxiety, depression, trauma, inattention and hyperactivity, difficulty separating from parents, school refusal, and fears of specific objects or situations (such as the dark, heights, needles, medical procedures and dogs). These challenges can impact not only the young person alone, interfering with their ability to enjoy activities, participate at school, and build close friendships; rather, it is not uncommon for parents to simultaneously feel stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed as they strive to meet their child’s needs.
Strategies to try now
While children and adolescents face a diverse range of challenges that can require psychological interventions that target and are tailored to their individual needs, there are a broad range of strategies that parents and young people can both implement to promote their mental health, including the following:
Look for opportunities to praise children for doing things well
Help children and adolescents to identify and label their emotions in an empathic manner. For example, ‘I can see that you’re really frustrated with your homework. I can understand that, since you haven’t worked on an activity like that before. Is there anything else you’re feeling?”.
Encourage children and adolescents to practice their ability to solve problems. For example, ‘This is a tricky situation. What do you think you could do now to make things better?’.
Show interest in events occurring in their life, emphasising their strengths and accomplishments.
Make time to talk and spend quality time with children every day.
Allow children to experience opportunities to learn from mistakes, take age-appropriate risks, and try new activities. While it can be tempting to protect a child from situations or things that cause them discomfort or anxiety, allowing them to experience these situations can foster their sense of resilience, independence, and confidence in their ability to cope in stressful and/or novel situations.
Become aware of your own emotions in interactions with your child. Children often take cues from their parents to help them ascertain whether situations are unsafe. While it is normal and common to experience anxiety as a parent, it can be difficult for a child to feel safe in a situation in which they perceive their parent(s) to be stressed or anxious. For this reason, it can be helpful to learn strategies to help you manage your own anxiety (link to Anxiety). If you’re experiencing persistent anxiety or stress that you find difficult to manage, a therapist at the Clinical Psychology Centre can tailor a plan to help you manage your anxiety and stress.
Approximately 14% of children and adolescents aged 14-17 years experienced clinical difficulties associated with mental health within the past 12 months.
Getting Professional Help
Evidence based treatments make the biggest difference.
The good news is that there are many effective treatments that address the diverse range of difficulties experienced in childhood and adolescence. These include various medications and psychological treatments, including but not limited to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (link to CBT section), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (Link to DBT section), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (link to ACT section), Schema Therapy (link to Schema Therapy) and Family Systems Therapy (link to Family Systems part).
Talking with your GP is the best place to make a start. They can assist you to get help for yourself or someone you care about. After talking about your symptoms and the situation you are in, the GP will direct you to a psychologist near you who specialises in the area that you need. You’re also welcome to call us for a chat: (02) 9906 5199.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some simple facts to help you understand Child / Adolescent issues and how you can best manage them.
How common are mental health difficulties in childhood and adolescence?
According to the Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, in 2013-2014, approximately 14% of children and adolescents aged 14-17 years experienced clinical difficulties associated with mental health within the past 12 months.
Warning signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties in childhood and adolescence
Given that children and adolescents face many challenging and stressful experiences in the context of their complex developmental transitions, it can be difficult for parents to distinguish between ‘normal’ levels of stress or emotional experiences and persisting symptoms that require professional treatment. Some signs to look out for in your child or adolescent may include the following:
Appearing persistently angry, frustrated, upset, on edge or restless
Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
Changes in appetite or weight
Persistent physical sensations such as muscle tension, pain or nausea
Withdrawal from social activities
Difficulty associated with falling or staying sleep
Avoiding activities that might cause anxiety
Refusal to attend school, or anxiety upon separation from parents
Reduced motivation to engage in required daily activities
Risks factors for mental health difficulties in childhood and adolescence
Some life circumstances can result in an increased risk of mental health difficulties in childhood and adolescence. Some of the common risk factors include:
Experiences of trauma
Long term physical illnesses
Experiences of bullying or abuse
A stressful family environment
A family history of challenges with anxiety or depression
Difficult or stressful life events, such as parental divorce, changing schools or homes, or romantic breakups
Life after developing skills to manage difficulties in adolescents and childhood
Although the developmental periods of adolescence and childhood are often an emotional rollercoaster for both young people and their parents, some families experience persistent distress that feels overwhelming, uncontrollable, and/or does not go away after stressful situations pass. Treatments for children and adolescents have demonstrated their effectiveness in helping not only young people to manage their anxiety symptoms, but in helping parents to build their confidence in supporting and fostering healthy relationships with their children. We offer a broad range of therapy modes suitable for children and adolescents, tailored to their specific challenges and goals.
Myths About Difficulties in Childhood and Adolescence
``Your child’s difficulties are a sign of poor parenting``
Child / Adolescent Myth 1
``Medication is the only treatment for childhood/adolescent difficulties``
Child / Adolescent Myth 2
``Children and adolescents always grow out of difficulties associated with mental health``
Child / Adolescent Myth 3
``A child/adolescent facing difficulties with mental health will always find it difficult to cope``