Families: Understanding and supporting children's mental health

Episode 166 June 24, 2024 00:15:28
Families: Understanding and supporting children's mental health
Emerging Minds Podcast
Families: Understanding and supporting children's mental health

Jun 24 2024 | 00:15:28

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Show Notes

In this episode, host of the Emerging Minds Families podcast Alicia Ranford talks with Emerging Minds Director, Brad Morgan, and Emerging Minds Manager, Digital Health, Ben Rogers. They take an in-depth look at children’s mental health, including a new suite of resources aimed at supporting parents’ understanding of this important topic.
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Episode Transcript

[00:00:02] Speaker A: Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast. [00:00:07] Speaker B: Hi, I'm Alesia Ranford, and you're listening to an Emerging Minds podcast. Before we start today's episode, we would like to pay respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which this podcast is recorded, the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains. We also pay respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their ancestors and elders, past, present, and emerging from the different First nations across Australia. As we go about our working day here at emerging minds, we talk with so many families to hear what they need to navigate the ups and downs of daily life, as well as what has helped them move through the more tricky or difficult times. A common theme during these conversations with parents and caregivers is some confusion around what children's mental health is, and in particular, why is it something that we should be thinking about, even for very young children and infants? I recently sat down with two of emerging minds finest, Brad Morgan, our director, and Ben Rogers, who is the manager of digital health, to take an in depth look at children's mental health and talk about a new suite of resources that we have recently developed to break down for families what is children's mental health? And to help parents and caregivers understand how we should be supporting our children right from birth. Thanks for joining me today. And Brad, I wondered if you could start by explaining to our listeners what we mean when we refer to children's mental health. [00:01:28] Speaker C: When we think about children's mental health, we think about what role our thinking or our emotions play in our everyday lives and how important they are in achieving everyday tasks, everyday activities, relationships. So when I think about mental health and what we encourage others to think about, it's not just mental health challenges, which is what we often think about. It's actually thinking about what role our emotions and our thinking has in our everyday lives. Part of children's mental health is viewing their mental health as something that's supporting their development. And so every day of their lives, they're learning and responding to all the things that are happening to them and what's happening in the world around them. And so part of their role in developing positive mental health is actually learning about their emotions, but also learning how those emotions support them to function and respond to all those things that happen to them. [00:02:14] Speaker B: What does positive mental health look like in children? [00:02:17] Speaker C: So it really depends, infants and babies, really what we're looking at is an infant that's expressing their feelings towards you. They try to connect with you, but they're also disconnecting and that's something they're learning as well, that they're sending out signals, so they cry to communicate they need something, but they also experience joy. And as infants grow into toddlers, we'll start to see a bit more autonomy or independence being exercised. And so you'll notice that they struggle with trying to figure out how to manage situations or how to manage those feelings they get when maybe things aren't going their way. And so that's just normal natural development. And then as kids get a bit older, so moving into that primary school years, we're noticing as they grow, the way they express and experience emotions become a bit different. And so from a positive perspective, you'll see a much broader range. They'll be able to use words to describe their feelings, they'll have different challenges in their lives that require different responses from their emotions. And then as they get older, become more and more, I guess, like adults in the way that they express their emotions and how those emotions influence their everyday lives. [00:03:21] Speaker B: And so from what you're saying, it's important for us to think about our child's development and what age they're at when we think about their emotions and behaviours and how that relates to how they're going and how their mental health is going. [00:03:34] Speaker C: Yeah. So it's really important for parents and the other adults in children's lives to really be understanding what children are going through the context of their emotions, but also knowing it's fairly reasonable to expect an infant to not be able to express, and so the emotions will be bigger and then over time they'll learn how to adjust depending on their age and stage in life. The other thing that's really important for parents to be thinking about as their children are growing is the role they play. Adults are really the most important thing that enable children to learn how to manage their emotions, to be able to check in on is my emotions. Matching the experience and sometimes our own mental health. As parents or as adults that are responsible for looking after children or they're in our care, they look to us actually for how we're responding as well and learn from our responses as well. So when we think about how to monitor children's mental health and as they grow, it's really thinking about how we monitor, monitor our own and respond to them as well. [00:04:28] Speaker B: How can parents help children to understand their emotions and learn to express them in healthy ways? [00:04:34] Speaker C: So things that can help, things that parents can do is label emotions for them. And that language we have, some words that we use in every community that help describe different feelings, but helping children connect those words with the emotions they might be experiencing. So that's one part is developing their own, what we call emotional literacy. So language around emotions and feelings, because that's important for us to be able to express them. And particularly now, as we move into the world that we have at the moment, there's a real strong need to have good emotional literacy and be able to describe that. But the other part of supporting children's mental health and development is actually what's unsaid and noticing children's emotions and behaviours. And so when we think about children's mental health as a parent, you really, what I sort of say is getting back to the basics of what's happening in everyday life of the child and then looking at how different emotions and feelings and their way they're thinking are responding in those environments and sort of just keeping an eye on that, really just observing and noticing the unique features of our children and the way they react to the world around them. [00:05:34] Speaker B: Why would you say it's important for them to think about their children's mental health from a young age? What effect can this have, and perhaps positive effect can this have on their life moving forward? [00:05:45] Speaker C: When we think about mental health, we often think about adult mental health and how we're going as adults or even young people. There's some organisations we've connected with, who've done some work, have actually studied community attitudes towards mental health. And what came up in some of those studies is that people don't perceive infants and children as having mental health. And part of that is because we often think of mental health conditions as what mental health is. But at the same time, because of that developing phase, we don't tend to think of children remembering big events, and infants in particular, where we do know they do remember, they just don't have the words that we would use to remember things. We often remember it through emotion or experience, and those repetitions of those emotions, experience, shape their memory of that. So when we're thinking about infant child mental health, what we're really encouraging is it really begins before children are born. What I really encourage parents and others involved in children's lives as is to pay as much attention to mental health as they do to their physical health. If we're nurturing a child's physical health, we can list off the things that we know that would support that and children can as well. Quite often what we really looking at is how do we pay equal attention to their mental health and know that mental health and physical health are really connected. You can't have one without the other necessarily. We think about physical and mental health as the resources that children need to navigate their everyday life, from when they're born all the way through to being teenagers and adults themselves. [00:07:07] Speaker B: And for our listeners who might be thinking about what they can do better to understand and support a child's mental health, what's the main message you would provide for parents there? [00:07:17] Speaker C: I guess one of the key messages, I would say, is know that there's resources and information and support out there for you. It can be really tricky to understand children's mental health because children are growing so rapidly. Sometimes it can actually be hard to know how they're going because you're like, oh, is this just part of everyday life and what I'd expect? Or is this something more than that? And that's actually okay. Give yourself permission to not know every moment. What I'll say is what? Keep your eye out for. Or as if things persist and then they start to interrupt children's everyday lives. And so you're finding they're disengaging with relationships or with school or early childhood education or play. They're the things I'd keep an eye out for. [00:07:57] Speaker B: Ben, I wanted to turn to you now. I know that you have led the development of this new package and I wanted to ask you, why has it been important for emerging minds to create a suite of resources looking at children's mental health? [00:08:09] Speaker D: Thanks, Alicia. As Brad mentioned, mental health is thought of often as mental illness, but as an organization and after listening to families across the country trying to understand this concept, we wanted to help parents and carers to understand that we all have mental health, including babies and young children. We know it's a complex concept to really understand. So this suite of resources really helps to break it down. We wanted to create something where parents feel confident in their support of their children in their daily life and also thinking about the family members and other adults that wrap around children to support mental health and wellbeing right from the beginning, at birth. [00:08:52] Speaker B: And having worked on these resources with you, along with the rest of the family's team and in fact the wider organisation, I know a lot went into getting them just right. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about this process? [00:09:05] Speaker D: Yeah, it's taken us a long time and we really needed that to deeply understand this topic. Speaking to families, speaking to practitioners. As part of that, we also looked at research and how organisations around the world talked about children's mental health and put these concepts together. And then arguably the most important part of this process was taking these resources to families like our listeners and to ask them what they thought and to shape those resources around their needs. [00:09:33] Speaker B: And I know for us it was important that these resources really resonate with parents when they look at them. [00:09:38] Speaker D: Yeah, and it's such a beautiful suite of thoughtfully created resources. One of the things that we've been learning from families across the country is the importance of having resources developed in different formats. So on our website, you can access information that you can listen to through podcasts, you can watch videos and learn about different information through the suite of resources. And there's a series of fact sheets that are available online or that you can print off. We also have this stunning animation which introduces em a child who walks us through the concept of children's mental health and talks about what shapes and supports it. So in the creation of this animation, we worked with an external provider that had a lot of expertise in this space and were able to bring this concept to life. [00:10:24] Speaker B: This fantastic suite of resources are also for practitioners and educators to utilise as well. Could you tell me about that? [00:10:31] Speaker D: Yeah. So emerging minds are funded by the federal government to lead the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health. So what we've developed is a comprehensive set of resources for practitioners, educators and other workers to share directly with families as they see them on a daily basis. These resources aim to strengthen a family's agency and give them confidence in talking about children's mental health with practitioners and with educators as well. And it's important to really hold in mind that it's this shared partnership that's really essential in supporting children's mental health outcomes. [00:11:05] Speaker B: The part of this suite of resources that I personally am most excited about is something that we've called the perks or the perks of parenting. So I wanted to talk about that a little bit. Now, could you explain to our listeners where this concept came from? [00:11:19] Speaker D: Perks is a framework that was developed here at emerging minds a few years ago and has been really helpful in shaping up some key domains that support and influence a child's life. The five domains consist of thinking about the parent child relationship and how supportive, responsive, caring relationships are really helpful in supporting a child to navigate difficulties in life. There's emotions and behaviours which are also really important in how a child might communicate what they're experiencing under the surface routines and predictability and the importance of structure in a child's life. Also thinking about communication and meaning making and also the support networks around a child that are essential in supporting child mental health outcomes. And so I really encourage any families who are curious about these domains or are looking for different strategies to support their child in their mental health and wellbeing, to jump on the website and look at the suite of resources available to them. [00:12:12] Speaker B: And they really resonated with me because I think as a parent you can look at an area that maybe isn't going so well. I have teenage children myself, but I remember clearly when they were younger and I was perhaps had been quite busy. And so maybe that relationship that I was having with my child at the time wasn't as good as it should have been. The thing I really like about these resources is parents can go on, have a look at a fact sheet on the parent child relationship and there's really practical things that they can do in the moment to support that. [00:12:42] Speaker D: Yeah, absolutely. And what I love about the perks domains is it also allows a parent to look at those areas of life where they feel like they're doing well and there's a real strong confidence. For instance, it might be around the routines, instructions at bedtime. Alongside that, it might provide some ideas on how to maybe have a difficult conversation with your child around bullying or if there's been any other significant changes in the child's life. So what we're hoping that these resources do is provide really practical, supportive resources that can walk alongside you as you support your child and family with their mental health. [00:13:16] Speaker B: Oh, it's fantastic. It's an exciting suite of resources and I think will be really useful for parents and carers out there all over the country who are looking for a few ideas on what they can do with their kids. [00:13:28] Speaker D: Absolutely, Alicia. And for us at emerging minds, it's the start of many more resources in this area. [00:13:33] Speaker B: Thank you both for joining me today in the podcast studio to talk to our listeners about this new suite of resources. [00:13:40] Speaker C: Thank you. [00:13:41] Speaker D: Thank you. [00:13:42] Speaker B: It's been really interesting to talk about children's mental health, and I hope that our listeners now are a little bit more curious and understand that, like physical health, we have mental health. And it's not just about those times when we're experiencing difficulties. And thank you, our listeners, for joining us today. I would really encourage you to check out our new understanding and supporting children's mental health resources by visiting emergingminds.com dot au and clicking on the families tab. They're freely available and designed to be shared with the families in your care. And if you don't already take a listen to our emerging Minds Families podcast channel, where we talk with professionals about supporting families through difficult times and also learn from other parents, carers and children about what has helped them to navigate the ups and downs of family life. You can find us by searching emerging minds families wherever you access your favourite podcasts. For more highlights, follow us on Instagram at emergingminds au or on facebookmergingmindsfamilies and all of these links and resources will be provided in the show. Notes thank you so much for listening. Today at emerging Minds we understand that every child and family will have their ups and downs, but with care, connection and support, we can help children to be mentally healthy, thrive and make the most out of life. [00:14:56] Speaker A: Visit our website at www.emergingminds.com dot au to access a range of resources to assist your practice brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health led by emerging minds. The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department Department of Health under the national support for Child and Youth Mental Health program.

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