Advertorial: I have been paid for my time in creating this post for Compass Fostering. All writing is my own
Have you ever tried to get your child to talk to you about something that’s worrying them? It’s like a bizzare (and much less enjoyable) game of 20 Questions, isn’t it? Try it with a teenager and you won’t even get Yes/No answers; you’re more likely to be on the receiving end of a couple of grunts, followed by a growl (or shriek) of outrage, and a door in your face. Am I right?
During the pandemic I think teenagers have had a particularly difficult time. My own certainly found it difficult to have their summer plans curtailed; and let’s face it, what 16 year old wants to be confined to their house with only their parents for company?!
Teen mental health has suffered during the pandemic
As well as missing their friends and their freedom, my kids have found it difficult to get their heads around the constantly changing messages of social distancing, and with a chronic medical condition to consider my daughter has found the move back to socialising particularly difficult. And although my teens are looking forward to going back to school next week, I’m well aware that many children are more anxious about the prospect. Children’s mental health charity Place2Be have said that a lot of children in the UK are ‘fearful’ of going back to school, either because of the Covid risk, or because they’re not used to regular timetables after the lack of routine during lockdown.
Talking with your teen about their mental health might seem too difficult, but I think it’s an essential part of the back to school preparations. Mental health charity MIND have reported that 22% of young people over the age of 13, who had no previous experience of mental health problems, now say that their mental health is poor, so it’s important to make sure that your own teen’s head is in as good a place as possible, before the chaos of a new school year hits.
How to get your teen to open up about their mental health
Compass Fostering are encouraging parents to find ways to discuss teen mental health at home now. Their Community Psychologist Louise Nicol advises that getting your child to talk about their worries with you can be easier if it’s done during a joint activity. I can absolutely vouch for that, and it’s one of the reasons I never ask my children direct questions about their worries, even if it’s making me burst with impatience. Yes, I see you, worried parent who just wants to fix things as soon as possible, and I’m totally with you! But it doesn’t work. Here’s what I do when I want my kids to let me know what’s really going on:
3 Activities guaranteed to get your teen to talk
I’ve found that my kids are much more likely to involve me in their problems if we’re in a casual situation; they’re even more inclined to open up gradually over a long period of time. So although in my head I want to understand all the detail, form an action plan, and get everything sorted immediately, I’ve learned that teen mental health is better handled if I’m just the sounding board over a longer series of conversations that allow my child to sort things out for themselves. After all, isn’t that what we’re aiming for ultimately? They’re not going to be ringing us to go and sort out their friendship issues when they’re 24, are they?
1.Talk to your kids on a drive
I’ve known since they were little that the best time to talk to my kids if I really want to know about their days is while we’re in the car. I think the winning point here is that there’s no eye contact. Look them straight in the eye over the dinner table and my question about why they failed their maths test is going to induce silent rage. Do it in the rear view mirror and I’m much more likely to (eventually) get some sensible answers. Lots of my children’s friendship issues have been resolved over the years en route to football practice, or on a supermarket run. In fact, it’s sometimes even better if we can discuss things in short bursts over the course of a week’s worth of journeys.
2.Go for a walk
If I get more than 5 words out of my teenage son once he’s started on his XBox it’s a good day. Getting him out for the daily dog walk (his dog, by the way, that he begged for, and promised to walk every day) requires skilful time management (because you can’t pause an online game, mum!) and a countdown of warnings prior to the poor dog getting a glimpse of his lead.
But once we’re out… Sometimes it takes a few minutes, but more often than not the dog walk is the time of day when he’ll forget that he’s a bored teenager, and become that boy who used to love to share his thoughts on the world. And just occasionally – interspersed with pauses to chat to other dog walkers, or tell me something funny that Rocket did that morning – I get to hear about something that’s bothering him. If I wait long enough, and ask some open questions, he’ll often make a decision on his next move with a particular dilemma. And maybe we’ll talk about how that went the next time we walk. If I can manage his Fifa commitments well enough.
3.Play Fifa with them
And to be clear, I don’t mean “play.” But if I sit on the sofa for half an hour while my son plays Fifa, or my daughter builds a new house for her Sims, this will often be the time they decide they’ll confide something in me. I don’t mean right away. First I’ll need to ask some questions about Ronaldo, the best way to score from a penalty kick, or how frequently the cooker sets on fire if you’re not rested (Sims – not real life). But once the conversation is flowing I can usually ask them about their mood without them clamming up. Sometimes they’ll talk, sometimes not, but if I’m patient – in amongst the tile choices for the new bathroom, or the kit colours for Fifa 21 – we might talk about the teacher they’re not looking forward to next week, or their anxieties over staying Covid safe while they’re at school.
Why Compass Fostering are keen to open up conversations about mental health
Compass are a fostering agency that provides amazing care for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children. It’s been a rough few months for a lot young people during lockdown. Ultimately they’re encouraging parents and caregivers to talk to their kids about their feelings, using their psychologists’ approved methods to do so. She uses these in therapy with looked after children who have experienced trauma, so these methods of addressing teen mental health are tried and tested.
There’s a national shortage of foster carers in the UK, with a lot more children coming into foster care than there are fostering families to look after them. Compass believe that people with an interest in children’s mental health would be brilliant candidates to foster with them as they’ll have understanding and be able to nurture children who may be struggling.
About Compass Fostering
- Compass believe that people with an interest in children’s mental health could make brilliant foster parents, as they’ll have understanding and be able to nurture children who may be struggling. You can find out more about becoming a foster parent here. You can find us on Facebook or Twitter.
- We focus on therapeutic parenting and training our foster parents to give the best possible care they can. Many looked after children and young people have complex emotional needs, so working with dedicated professionals we make sure our young people have the best possible support available.
- Our highly experienced teams work with children and families to provide services that improve the self-esteem, confidence, life chances, achievements and placement stability of our young people we care for along with meeting the needs of our foster families.
- At Compass, we know that successful placements depend on attention to detail. That’s why we take the time to listen carefully to the needs of our foster carers and their families, empowering them to give a child a fulfilling future and rewarding them for the care they provide.
- It’s why we offer round-the-clock support, a generous allowance, professional training and an outstanding Education Service for our fostered children.
- There is currently a national shortage of foster carers in the UK. We’re looking for people who could offer a safe, stable, loving environment for young people who haven’t had the best start in life.