It’s important to find ways to maintain a sense of closeness and connection with your child when you are unwell

It isn’t the big gestures or activities that keep children feeling connected with you – it’s the small things like cuddles, leaving nice messages, sitting on the couch and watching tv together, or being there to watch your children play.

When you are feeling unwell and your family is struggling, there can be a mismatch between what you need (such as rest and time to yourself) and what your child needs (connection, closeness and attention). At these times your child may seem more demanding, clingy, or act out. You may end up getting angry, irritated, or severe, telling your child to go away (verbally or visually). As a result of these moments, children can end up feeling rejected and alone – and you are left feeling guilty.

Ideas that may help you to connect

The following ideas to keep you connected with your child when you’re unwell have been shared with us by parents who experience mental illness. You may also get some ideas from other parents you know about what they do to stay connected with their child when they have ‘run out of steam’.

  • Being there with your child. You don’t need to entertain or lead your child in play. Simply being there, watching them and inviting them to talk to you about what they are doing is a good way to be connected.
  • Invite your child to tell you what they would like to do – you might be surprised that it is the simple things that they like. Children like quiet times too.
  • When you have toddlers and don’t have the energy to actively play, you can sit down next to them and watch them play. You could then get involved by describing what they are doing and inviting them to talk about what they are doing.
  • If you can’t manage to go with your child on an outing, tell them you would love to hear about it when they get back. You could also invite them to share something they found or pictures they took while they were out.
  • If you can’t manage to be there for your child (e.g. in the morning or when they get home from school) a special message left somewhere appropriate in the house can mean a lot.
  • Invite your child to read you a story while you are together.
  • Whether you are well or unwell, try to prioritise some one-on-one time with your child everyday.
  • If you really feel like you can’t be with your child, you could help them understand by saying something like ‘I would like to spend time with you, but I am feeling unwell at the moment so I need to spend some time on my own to get some rest. Then we can spend some time together’.
  • If you’re struggling with your relationship with your child, speak to your health worker about what you can do.

When you’re in hospital

If you’re unwell and spend some time in hospital, it is important for you to stay connected with your child.

You can talk with members of your mental health team about the options that might work best for you to keep up your communication with your child whilst you’re getting better.

Here are some ideas that you can discuss with them:

  • Sending a message. Ask staff where you’re staying to send a message to your child or send a text message from your mobile phone.
  • Send a letter/email or ask staff to help you write one.
  • Arrange for a phone call.
  • Plan a visit with your child, for a time that suits you best.
  • Where you’re staying there may be a family room where you can spend time with your child away from other people.
  • Arrange for leave from hospital to do a family activity or just to spend quiet time at home with your child and family.
  • If you are from a country town and staying in the city, ask if there are video conferencing or web-conferencing services that you could use to talk with your child.

Remember, there are many different ways to stay connected – even when you can’t meet face to face. It’s important to your child’s wellbeing and your family’s stablility whilst you’re away.

Download Free COPMI Resources

For use by families where a parent has a mental illness, their supporters, and services who work with them.