Mental Health

For parents and carers

  • What is good mental health and wellbeing?

    Good mental health and wellbeing for infants, children and adolescents involves:

    • having a positive outlook
    • developing and having good self-esteem
    • being able to play, learn, be social with others, manage feelings and responses in a range of situations  
    • having healthy relationships and close bonds with family and friends.

    There are times, however, when you might worry about your child’s feelings or behaviour. If this lasts long enough to interfere with your child’s everyday life, it could be a sign of a more serious problem that needs a follow-up.

    As a parent or carer, if you have these concerns, please seek professional advice. You may wish to call us for a confidential discussion about your child and to make a referral yourself. Click here for contact information.

    Our goal is to help you learn about each other, recover from any mental health difficulties or mental illness and to become the best children and families you can be – to have great mental health and wellbeing!

    What happens if my child has been referred to the RCH Mental Health?

    Referrals can be made directly by parents or carers, by professionals such as your local doctor (a GP) or School Welfare Coordinator. Sometimes young people contact our service directly themselves or through another young person. For information about how to make a referral to the RCH Mental Health see the information on pages about:

    First, your child’s referral will be looked at by a health professional (clinician) and discussed with the person making the referral and the parent/guardian (if these are different people). We will ask a lot of questions and check details such as your child’s date of birth, address, background and why he/she might need extra help right now. This is a private (confidential) conversation. We can only do this when a parent/guardian has given permission (called giving consent).

    A decision will be made about the next step for your child or young person, such as should he/she see a Mental Health team or another agency. You will be told about this decision and guided towards any other useful information. There will also be a decision about how quickly your child/young person needs to be seen and we will tell you about this when we arrange the appointment.

    If you are coming to the RCH Mental Health department to see one of our clinicians, typically, an appointment will be booked. Or your child may already be in hospital in which case one of our clinicians or doctors will come and see you on the ward.

    Generally, unless your child/young person is in hospital, you will be given the details of the time, date and place for your appointment. Information will be sent to you to help you be organised before the first appointment in most cases.

    Often, we will write a report about why your child/young person has come to see us and what we think might be good things to do for him/her to recover. We will also make sure that your child/young person is safe and people know what to do while he/she is getting better. You all may have some new things to practice, which can help too. We work closely with families and involve them in the recovery plans.

    You might see us more than once, but we will tell you. Sometimes our clinicians come to your child/young person’s kindergarten or school or visit you at home if you can’t come to us. You might see us in different places, like the hospital or the clinic in the community. It just depends what you need.

    Please let us know if you or your child have an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background. We have a special Koori Social and Emotional Wellbeing Officer to support you if you would like.

    Also, please let us know if you need an interpreter so we can arrange one for your appointments with us.

    Our goal is to help you learn about each other, recover from any mental health difficulties or mental illness and to become the best children and families you can be – to have great mental health and wellbeing!

    If you have any queries, or need to contact us for any reason click here.

    I'm worried about my child/young person

    Babies and toddlers 0 – 4 years

    What is good mental health for babies and toddlers?

    Infant mental health involves thinking about the world from the baby’s point of view. It considers the ways babies and toddlers learn to think and understand, and how they learn to feel, show and control their emotions.

    Babies come into the world with a range of things that help them cope and things that might not. We might call these strengths and weaknesses, or capacities and vulnerabilities. Together with their parents or carers, they experience many things in the next months and years.  They are born wanting to connect with people and their environment. This is known as attachment.

    Lots of different things can be stressful for the parent or carer, the baby or toddler or both of them. This might change how they relate to each other. Sometimes it may affect a baby’s or toddler’s growth and development because of:

    • Something traumatic happening (e.g. a hurtful, shocking or painful event)
    • Being sick or having a disability
    • Having to go to hospital and being apart from each other (the infant or parent)
    • Being born very early (prematurity)
    • Having a slower or different pattern of development
    • Loosing something important (e.g. someone close, home to live in)
    • Changing family circumstances
    • Post-natal depression or parental mental health difficulties.

    If you have a feeling that you and your infant or toddler are not connecting, that you haven’t “bonded” with your baby, that you don’t love them, or you feel that they don’t love you then there is help available.

    It is important to get help. A mental health clinician (a trained person) can also help even more. Our clinicians are curious about the particular difficulties that babies, toddlers and their families might face. Our goal is to help you learn about each other, help your baby or toddler recover from any mental health difficulties or mental illness and to become the best children and families you can be – to have great mental health and wellbeing!

    Click here for other helpful community resources for parents and carers.

    Who can help me?

    If you are troubled about how your baby or toddler is growing up socially or emotionally, there are lots of people who can help.  The first people to talk to would be:

    • Your Maternal and Child Health Nurse
    • Your local doctor (GP)
    • A doctor that works with just children (paediatrician)
    • An early parenting centre (such as Tweddle Child and Family Health Service or The Queen Elizabeth Centre?

    If you are still worried, you may want an appointment with an Infant Mental Health clinician (a specialist health professional for babies and toddlers). They can offer advice, work out how your baby or toddler is developing compared to other children and suggest ideas of what might help them and you feel better. When they are working this out, the clinician finds out about assessment your infant’s health, development, family background, how they relate to others and what you are wanting help with.

    Through talking, listening, and watching, we can help both families and medical teams better understand the baby’s and their own experiences. They will also play with the baby and talk about what they are wondering the baby might be thinking and feeling, to try and form a bond with different people. We want to positively guide parents or carers to make it easier for their baby to cope with life’s ups and downs as they grow, especially how they socialise, play and adjust their feelings and thoughts to different situations.

    Click here for other helpful community resources for parents and carers.

    What can I do if…?

    I think my baby or toddler feels worried

    Babies and toddlers can have mental health difficulties for similar reasons to older children and adults.  They can get worried or nervous for lots of reasons.  They learn about emotions, and how to manage them, by watching and copying grown ups that are important to them. So if their mum or dad is worried, and has difficulties managing that worry, the toddler may get worried, too.  But treating mum or dad’s anxiety or worries doesn’t automatically fix the child’s worries or anxiety.  She or he need their own help.

    For infants and toddlers, worries and anxiety can be shown in a number of ways, including:

    • Not sleeping well (unsettled sleep, or nightmares)
    • Seeming really unhappy (distressed), restless, grumpy, or cranky (irritable) 
    • Not wanting to eat (food refusal)
    • Not crying
    • Not wanting to let go of or be apart from a parent or carer (clinginess)
    • Scared or fearful about trying new things
    • Being less playful or having limited types of play or games they like to do
    • Having toileting difficulties.

    We encourage you to seek help when an baby or toddler’s worries gets in the way of them being social, controlling their feelings and thoughts appropriately, or learning and developing skills or abilities you would expect for their age. We know things will not necessarily get better without advice and practising new skills.  And the earlier your baby or toddler gets help, the quicker he or she can get back to the important tasks of learning and developing. 

    I think my baby or toddler feels sad

    Babies and toddlers can have mental health difficulties for similar reasons to older children and adults.  They can be sad just the rest of us. They can be depressed for lots of reasons.  They learn about emotions, and how to manage them, from watching and copying grown ups that are important to them. So if their mum or dad is sad, and is having difficulties managing that sadness, the toddler may get sad, too.  But treating mum or dad’s sadness or depression doesn’t automatically fix the child’s feelings of being sad. She or he may need their own help.

    For babies and toddlers, sadness or depression can be shown in a number of ways, including:

    • Crying, seeming really unhappy (distressed), restless, grumpy, or cranky (irritable) 
    • Not wanting to make or keep eye contact with you (gaze avoidance)
    • “Shutting down”, and showing little emotions or making few attempts to get their needs met (like being fed, having their nappy changed, going outside to play, etc.)
    • Not wanting to eat (food refusal or in serious cases failing to thrive)
    • Being less playful or having limited types of play or games they like to do
    • Having a change in their sleeping patterns (e.g. more or less than usual
    • Seeming to lack of energy when awake (doesn’t want to do very much)

    Seek help when an baby or toddler’s sadness gets in the way of them being social, controlling their feelings and thoughts appropriately, or learning and developing in ways you would expect for their age. We know things will not necessarily get better without advice and practising new skills.  And the earlier your baby or toddler gets help, the quicker he or she can get back to the important tasks of learning and developing.

    I think my baby or toddler feels angry

    Babies and toddlers can have mental health difficulties just like you and me. They can be angry and cross, for lots of reasons.  They learn about emotions, and how to manage them, from watching and grown ups that are important to them. So if their mum or dad gets angry, and has difficulties managing anger, the baby or toddler may have difficulties too.  But treating mum or dad’s difficulties with anger doesn’t automatically fix the child’s feelings of being angry. She or he may need their own help.

    For babies and toddlers, anger can be shown in lots of ways, mostly through their actions and behaviours. You might notice they are:

    • Crying, seeming really unhappy (distressed), restless, grumpy, or cranky (irritable) 
    • Not interested in eating or drinking (food refusal)
    • Yelling, kicking, hitting, biting and damaging things around them (having tantrums)
    • Physically hurting others or themselves
    • Playing in a forceful, violent or destructive way
    • Bullying other children or pets
    • Having lots of difficulty calming him or herself down when upset.

    It is normal for pre-school children to say no, and have tantrums at times. This is their way of learning about their own place in the family and the world.

    Seek help, however, when your baby, toddler, or family is unable to manage these angry feelings in a ways that help them learn and grow. We know that things will not necessarily get better without advice and practising new skills.  And the earlier everyone gets help, the quicker you can get back to the important tasks of learning and developing together.

    My baby or toddler does not like me leaving them

    Although babies and toddlers don’t yet attend school, many go to crèche, day care, spend time being cared for by grandparents, or split their time between parents who no longer live together.  All of these things can sometimes be challenging for a baby or toddler.

    It is normal for a baby or toddler to be upset at being apart from their parent or carer, especially if they are left with someone they don’t know very well.  Sometimes it takes a child time to get used to a new situation.  Any distress should stop when the child is reunited with their main carer.

    Seek advice if your baby or toddler keeps being upset by everyday farewells, and doesn’t “settle” with familiar people.  We know that things will not necessarily get better without advice and practising new skills.  And the earlier everyone gets help, the quicker you can get back to the important tasks of learning and developing together.

    I’m worried about a friend or parent

    If you’re concerned about a friend or another parent, it’s good to know that there are places that can help.

    If you are worried about their baby or toddler’s physical health, mental health, or about how the relationship between a parent and their infant or toddler is developing, you might suggest that they talk to their Maternal and Child Health Nurse, local doctor (their GP), or a doctor that just looks after children (a paediatrician). These health professionals can help in identifying difficulties and working out whether a specialist infant mental health referral may be helpful.

    If you are worried about a parent’s own mental health, there are lots of resources that can help mothers and fathers during the time before and after a baby is born (the antenatal and perinatal periods). They may be experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health difficulties. It is important they get professional help early. Good places to start include suggesting they talk to their local doctor (a GP).

    Click here for other helpful community resources for parents and carers.

    Children 5 – 11 years

    During the early to middle childhood stage, your child will experience a number of changes in their social, emotional, personal and physical development. They will start attending school, making friendships, and developing their own interests.  During this stage your child begins to develop a ‘sense of self’, separate from you, their parent or carer. Whilst these changes can be exciting, they can also be challenging. It is normal for children this age to experience the following:

    • Worry about separating from you or someone familiar especially in new situations
    • Developing fears or phobias e.g. about dogs, spiders, snakes, water, etc.
    • Challenging limits or boundaries you set and seeming to be defiant (a little or a lot)
    • Minor clashes (difficulties with relationships) with their friends and siblings.

    Most children learn to overcome these with advice, encouragement or support. If your child continues to have difficulties after you have tried general strategies to help them, and your child is finding it difficult to do the things they have to or want to do (self-care, be social, learn at school, play, etc.) it may be worth investigating what’s happening for them.

    Behavioural problems and mental health difficulties can occur in all ages and it is important to be aware of some things your young person may need help with from a trained health professional, such as (but not limited to):

    • Ongoing worry/anxiety that interferes with your child’s ability to go to school, to concentrate and learn, and to be confident with others
    • Ongoing refusal to follow rules at home and/or school
    • Attention and concentration difficulties that are overstated compare to other children the same age and impacts on your child’s social and school life
    • Difficulty making and maintaining friendships
    • Obsessions or compulsions that interfere with everyday life or cause your child to feel upset
    • Withdrawal from spending time with family and friends and/or doing activities that they once enjoyed.

    It is important to get help. A mental health clinician (a trained person) can also help even more.

    Click here for other helpful community resources for parents and carers.

    Younger adolescents 12 – 15 years

    Early adolescence is a difficult transition period for both the young person and parent or carer. There are many normal social and emotional developmental changes that occur such as:

    • Young people are busy working out what type of individual they want to be and where they fit into their world
    • They begin to seek greater levels of independence and responsibility
    • They may appear more sensitive and display stronger feelings of emotions than previously
    • Their emotional responses may appear unpredictable at time and as a parent you may feel disconnected from your child as they may start to be more influenced by friends.
    • They may become more conscious of their physical appearance and compare their bodies with those of friends, celebrities or peers
    • You may find there are more times of conflict with your adolescent
    • They may become more impulsive in their behaviour

    It is important to note that during early adolescence their brain is developing or ‘remodelling’ in terms of learning how to problem solve, make decisions and control impulses. Your young person may look older and more physically developed, but in terms of social and emotional development this doesn’t always match what developments you see on the outside. We know that adolescence is difficult and the most important tool is to learn how to communicate with each other which will be different now your child is an adolescent. Try sitting next to them rather than in front of them and be open to giving them choices, compromise and problem-solving together rather than doing the problem solving for them.

    It is important to be aware of some things your young person may need help with from a trained health professional, such as (but not limited to):

    • Long periods of withdrawal such as spending all evening in their bedroom and disengaging from social relationships
    • Sustained changes in emotions such as periods of sadness, anger, irritability, anxiety
    • Engaging in substance use (drugs or alcohol)
    • Rapid weight loss or weight gain from eating too much or restricting their eating
    • Increased and ongoing conflict at home between family members
    • Loss of pleasure in activities they once enjoyed e.g. not wanting to attend basketball any longer
    • Difficulty concentrating on things such as school work over a sustained period of time reported by your adolescent and school
    • Self-harming behaviours such as cutting or burning themselves
    • Talking about death or ‘not wanting to be around’
    • Talking about feeling others are watching them or feeling ‘paranoid’
    • Hallucinations: identifying seeing, feeling or hearing things that can’t be noticed by others

    It is important to get help. A mental health clinician (a trained person) can also help even more.

    Click here for other helpful community resources for parents and carers.

    Older adolescents 15 – 18 years

    Research has shown that adolescents between 15 and 18 years of age are at increased risk of developing a mental health condition. This can occur for a number of reasons. Adolescents is a time where young people experience increased family, social and societal pressures that can impact on their functioning. Signs of a possible mental health issue may include:

    • Increased anxiety or worry
    • Lowered mood
    • Expressed feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
    • Wanting to spend less time with others
    • A loss of interest in activities that they previously found enjoyment from
    • Difficulty with concentration
    • Reduced motivation
    • Sleeping difficulties
    • Loss or increase of appetite. This may involve significant weight loss or weight gain
    • Increased irritability and/or aggressive behaviours
    • Paranoia (fear of something bad happening or being watched by others)
    • Perceptual disturbances such as hearing voices and/or seeing things that other people can’t
    • Drug and or alcohol use
    • School refusal
    • Risk taking or impulsive behaviours
    • Criminal behaviours such as theft

    It is important that parents focus on listening to their adolescent’s concerns in a compassionate way, and help them in use appropriate supports within the community e.g. accessing support from their school counsellor, headspace or a mental health service like ours at RCH Mental Health.

    Click here for other helpful community resources for parents and carers

    Community resources for parents and carers