In the videos on this page dads and children who’ve a parent with mental illness talk about their relationships. Below you’ll find some tips to help you be the best for your kids.
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To be the best for your kids, you'll need to understand them. Knowing their abilities and what interests them shows that you care. Being able to effectively communicate with your children fosters trust. This is easier if you are observant and are able to respond to their needs.
Many dads expect certain things for their kids. But when these expectations don't match the child's abilities, it can create all sorts of stressful situations. So get to understand your child’s potential and that it will change as they develop. When your expectations match your child’s abilities and interests, they feel secure and develop a trust in you.
When someone in the family’s not well, your child will most likely be confused or worried. Even if they’re not verbalising any questions or concerns, most will still be thinking about what’s going on and be trying to make sense of it. You can alleviate these concerns by explaining the situation in a way they’ll understand. This stops them from thinking they’re responsible. Many children blame themselves for a parent’s illness if it’s not been explained. It also helps them realise they aren’t alone in what they are experiencing which is also comforting.
Observant parents notice when things impact emotionally on their children. When you notice signs of distress or stress, comfort them or arrange appropriate support.
Some children display negative behaviour changes which can warn you that something’s wrong. For example, if your child regularly complains of ‘feeling sick’ or has a stomach or head ache, your child may be stressed or worried. Some might withdraw from family and social activities. On the other hand, a child might seem their usual self at home but act out differently outside the home. It can help to talk to people at your child’s school to get a better picture of how they might be coping.
Sometimes it helps to get outside support. Having social connections within and outside the family fosters emotional resilience in young people. Social relationships with peers will help children cope with the challenges of mental illness in family life.
You and your children don’t need to resolve feelings of distress or stress on your own. If you’re concerned your child is distressed, you can work with a mental health professional. There’s plenty of information and support for children, like websites with first-hand stories they can read.
Mental illness can be long-term and unpredictable. It can also be manageable with the right support. Staying involved with the family, and particularly your children shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to your and your child’s wellbeing.
Routines and care plans give security to children when a parent’s mental illness disrupts family life. Being too rigid or too lose may not work, so review them often to check they’re effective. Conflict and disagreement are part of family life. But the way parents handle it is vital for their children’s wellbeing. If you’re not satisfied with how you’ve handled a situation, it might help to talk about it and apologise where appropriate.