Your child's wellbeing

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Healthy relationships

If you’re worried about your child's friendships or relationships; you feel that your child's behaviour has changed or they don’t seem as happy as they used to be, there are some signs you can look out for.

What are the warning signs?

  • Isolation – no longer spending time with usual circle of friends/family
  • Constantly checking a mobile phone, and getting upset when asked to turn it off
  • Withdrawn or quieter than usual
  • Angry or irritable when asked how things are
  • Changing their appearance, clothes, make up or style
  • Making excuses for a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Physical signs of injury, such as unexplained scratches or bruises
  • Truancy, falling grades
  • Self harm

The symptoms of an unhealthy relationship or abuse could typically be:

  • Poor sleep habits
  • Nausea or headaches
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Low self-confidence or esteem
  • Change in eating habits (under or overeating)
  • Lack of trust in family and friends
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol

What should you do if your worried about your child?
Talking to your children about relationships and sex can be very difficult, especially knowing when and where to start. It may help to view the page on healthy relationships for young people on our website to give you an understanding of what healthy vs unhealthy relationships look like.

You may find it helpful to discuss with them the potential long term consequences of teenage relationship abuse, if left unchallenged:

  • violence can have long-term effects on your teenager’s mental and physical health
  • it may lead to depression, drug and alcohol problems, obesity and sexually risk-taking behaviour
  • sexual abuse can lead to early or unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections

Self Harm
Finding that a person you care for is harming themselves can bring about a large range of thoughts and feelings:

  • Fear
  • Distress
  • Confusion
  • Worry
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Self blame

Your first reactions may be to remove the things that they may be using to harm themselves, be forceful in seeking help (i.e. urgently seeing a GP),apply pressure on them to talk, or be confrontational.

Self harm is primarily a coping strategy. Until the reasons behind the self harm have been explored taking away their ability to cope can be very detrimental.

A common fear is that a loved one is feeling suicidal. Whilst some individuals that self harm may have suicidal feelings, these are likely to originate from the issues behind the self harm rather than the self harm itself. Self harm, as a coping mechanism, is very often a way of avoiding suicide by releasing thoughts, feelings and emotions.

The reasons behind self harm will need to be addressed when the individual is ready and with the right care and support. Appropriate professional help may be needed. Whilst these reasons are being worked through the greatest support you can offer is a listening ear.

Distractions can be a powerful way of diverting feelings of self harm or finding other ways to express thoughts and feelings such as poetry, art, sport etc. Alternatives to self harm such as ice cubes on the skin, flicking elastic bands or drawing on the skin with red pens can also help.

Getting help
Though self-harm is rarely a failed suicide attempt, it is a sign that the person doing it is coping with very difficult feelings, and probably needs some help. Self-injury can also lead to infection, permanent damage and even accidental death. It is therefore important to seek professional advice if your child is self-harming.

Start by going to see your GP. You can see the GP yourself if your child does not want to go. You should also ask your GP what to do if your child’s cuts get infected. Your GP may refer you and your child to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)

You can also look for counselling at Young Minds or at KOOTH for your child. You do not need to see the GP first for many youth counselling services.

If you are worried your child is putting their life at risk by self-harming, call 999 or take them to A&E if possible.

Suicide and suicidal feelings
Nearly everyone has times when they feel very down and can’t see a way out, but for a few these feelings are so deep and intense they may lead to attempts to end their life. A very depressed person can feel so intensely negative about life they cannot see the point in carrying on.

Due to the number of changes they are going through, both hormonally and in life, young people can be particularly vulnerable to feeling suicidal.

They can feel very scared of the future, anxious about their career and academic pressures, overwhelmed by worries about personal relationships and sexuality, and can feel pressurised by peers into risky behaviour, including drug and alcohol abuse.

Young people who lack support and the practical experience to solve problems can sometimes feel no-one will be able to help them and that killing themselves is the best way out.

The risk of suicide is higher when a young person:

  • Is depressed, or when they have a serious mental illness
  • Is using drugs or alcohol when they are upset
  • Has tried to kill themselves a number of times before
  • Has planned for a while about how to die without being saved
  • Has a relative or friend who tried to kill themselves

Getting help
If a young person gets the help and treatment they need, the risk of suicide can be greatly reduced. If you suspect that a young person is feeling suicidal, it is extremely important to talk to them about it and get professional help. Start by seeing your GP and asking for advice. Advice and support for a child with suicidal thoughts can be found at Young Minds for Parents. If you think a young person is seriously contemplating suicide or has attempted suicide you should call 999 immediately and go to A&E. A doctor or psychiatric team will assess the situation.

As a parent, it can be extremely difficult to cope if your child has attempted suicide or is talking about committing suicide and it is advisable to find support for you too.

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