By Barbara Benson, Young Minds

Many children and young people go through phases where they find things hard. It might be starting a new school, hitting puberty or just the ups and downs of life. It can be hard to know when these phases are just ‘growing pains’, and when the child might be developing emotional or behavioural problems. Here we answer common questions about a child’s emotional health.

When should we be concerned?

All children and young people are different and what is ‘normal’ for one might be a cause for worry with another. But here are some signs to look out for:

  • Being very withdrawn, tearful or negative
  • Angry outbursts, violence or destructive behaviour
  • Sleeping all the time or having trouble getting to sleep
  • Eating problems
  • Self-harming
  • Sustained problems with friendships or bullying
  • Anxiety or fearfulness
  • Phobias or panic attacks
  • School refusing or truanting
  • Obsessive or addictive behaviour
  • Problems with concentration or learning

As a grandparent you will probably know your grandchild well, so if your instinct is that things are going wrong, it may be time to talk to the parents about seeking help.

Where can we get help?

Your grandchild’s GP can be a good person to start with, to talk things over and decide what extra help is needed. If your grandchild isn’t happy to do this, or is too young to attend on their own, you or their parents can make an appointment alone to discuss your worries. GPs can make a referral to specialist services called Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), which offer assessment and treatment. If they think a medical assessment is necessary they can refer to a paediatrician or another specialist. They can also advise on local counselling services for young people and other local services which might help.

If the child is school-aged, it is worth talking to teachers and other teaching staff about how the child is behaving at school, and if there is anything they can do to help. Most schools have learning mentors, school counsellors, school nurses and SENCOs (special educational needs co-ordinators) who can help. Schools can make a referral to CAMHS themselves, and can also get an Educational Psychologist to assess the child’s needs.

If the child is not attending school, the Education Social Worker or Educational Welfare Officer may become involved to help support their education.

The local social care department is also worth contacting for support and may be able to provide practical help, advice or respite care. Children’s Centres and local charities may also provide support.

How can YoungMinds help grandparents?

YoungMinds Parents Helpline is for any adult worried about the emotional problems or behaviour of a child or young person, up to the age of 25. The trained helpline advisers offer information and advice about common difficulties experienced by young people such as depression, bullying, self-harming, violent behaviour and eating and sleeping problems. (See contact details below.)

The Parents Helpline speaks to hundreds of grandparents every year, and they call about many different issues.

Here is just one story

Rowena called YoungMinds about her grandson Finn, who was seven years old. Finn’s parents both worked shifts full-time and Finn was looked after by Rowena for about half the week. Finn was getting into trouble at school, was fighting in the playground and was struggling with his reading and writing. He also found it hard to sleep at night. Finn’s mum, who was Rowena’s daughter, was worried about him and wanted to get help, but his dad was much stricter. He was angry with Finn for getting into trouble and thought he needed to ‘sort himself out’. Rowena thought Finn needed help but did not want to upset her son-in-law.

The YoungMinds Helpline Adviser listened to Rowena’s concerns and agreed it did sound like Finn needed some help. She sent some information for Rowena to share with mum and dad about what might be causing Finn’s behaviour, and what might help. She also arranged for Rowena to have a free callback with a YoungMinds Professional Adviser to get some ideas on how to handle Finn’s behaviour, and how to approach the situation with her son-in-law.

Rowena said, 'It was so helpful to talk to YoungMinds about Finn. I realised that never knowing when he was going to see his mum and dad, or where he would be sleeping, was really unsettling him. He was also feeling really low about his reading and writing which was making him angry. I gave the information to his mum and dad and they began to see that Finn was actually asking for help with his fighting and naughtiness.

'We talked to the school and they are going to give him some extra help, and his dad has been making more of an effort to be there for him. He still has a few bad days but we understand it more, can handle it better and we know where to get help if things go downhill again.'


YoungMinds Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544 (open Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4pm)