COPMI - Children of Parents with a Mental Illness - Keeping families in mind

Supporting children in the family

Young boy

Some simple actions can make a big difference to children when their parent is unwell...

These actions can provide positive, long-term benefits for children's future mental health and wellbeing.

Sometimes when a parent's unwell their behaviour might confuse or even frighten their children. You can protect them from worrying behaviour by gently removing them from the situation. If you feel that's necessary, you should explain their parent’s behaviour is because of the illness. It's important to make children understand the behaviour has nothing to do with them. Comfort the child. Ask them how they feel and let them know its okay to have the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing.

Talking to kids

Children have different ways of communicating their needs. They may have unfounded fears about their parent's illness. Encourage them to ask questions about it and be informed and non-judgemental when sharing this information with them. Let them know they can ask questions at any time. Some children will require answers to different questions as they grow-up, as circumstances change or as information ‘sinks in’.

We recommend you read talking to young people about mental illness and our Family Talk booklet.

Keep kids active outside the home

Encourage children to access other social supports and participate in activities outside the home. Even if this means continuing with regular child-care or a sporting activity. An atmosphere that allows them to socialise with other kids and get a break from the home environment is good for them.

boy playing on a swingWhether you’re a family member or a friend – you can be an ‘anchor point’ for kids, particularly when they are frightened or confused, or if they need to spend time apart from their parent. A positive relationship with a reliable adult is very valuable for children.

Use resources to help

Telling young children stories that help them to deal with their feelings is an effective way to support very young children. See our Resources search where you can find books and other resources for different age groups.

Tell children about Kids Helpline, a non-judgemental, anonymous service which offers immediate support. Kids Helpline offers telephone counselling on 1800 55 1800 and counselling online. You can also send them to our Kids & Teens/Young people section of the website for links to helpful information specifically for their age groups.

Links to more information

  • Here to Help -  Talking to children and youth when it's time to discuss a family member's mental illness or alcohol/drug problem.




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