If your child is battling with their mental health, they’re not alone. And neither are you. So many of us are on the same difficult journey. 

Mental health issues in young people are on the rise — issues that need to be met with support, compassion, and care. 

How we treat children with mental health struggles can affect all aspects of their lives as they grow into adults.

Here’s the current state of things:

  • 1 in 6 U.S. children between the ages of 2 and 8 are diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. ¹
  • Globally, the UN reports that 1 in 7 kids between the ages of 10 and 19 experience a mental disorder.²
  • Sadly, suicide is the second most common cause of death in the US for youth aged 15 to 24.³

There’s a lot of advice online about mental health — it can feel impossible to know what to listen to.

So we’re going to weed out the fiction from fact and find advice that is actually implementable. 

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to seek professional help
  • The latest research on how to support children through mental health struggles
  • Practical science-back strategies to implement to support your child


Getting Professional Help

If your child is battling with their mental health, we always recommend seeing a professional for nuanced guidance.

Every child and every family is unique, so it’s important to find an expert who is able to address your particular situation. 

Here are some helpful resources for helping you find a therapist and/or support group:

If you need immediate support with crisis prevention, here’s where to go:

Parent Perspective: How to Support a Child with Mental Health Issues

First, the fact that you’re searching for ways to support your child already means that you care for your child’s wellbeing — and that’s huge.

Spending the time to research mental health issues in children and work out how to provide support for your child is the biggest first step.

So, let’s get down to it. The most important thing to know is just how vital you are to your child’s development

Dr. Gabor Mate, an important name to know when it comes to cutting-edge mental health research, tells us that the role of the “essential condition for healthy development is the child’s relationship with nurturing adults.” 

With child development expert Dr. Gordon Neufeld, he has authored the book Hold on to Your Kids, which reveals an important truth: too many children are turning to their peers rather than their families for direction regarding their values, behavior, and identity. 

When “being cool” matters more than anything else, kids struggle to get the guidance they need for healthy development, leading to feelings of alienation and anxiety. 

That doesn’t mean just that all the responsibility is on you. (However overused the phrase is, it truly does take a village to raise a child.)

It does, however, reinforce how vital supportive adults are to kids’ mental health. 

With that in mind, let’s explore some strategies you can implement right away.

1. Research “social-emotional” learning

In our fast-paced, highly connected world, coping with the ups and downs that life throws at us is not easy and requires specific inner resources. That’s where social-emotional learning comes in. 

According to the Child Mind Institute, a leading organization dedicated to helping children with mental health struggles and learning disorders, social-emotional learning is:

“…the way children acquire social and emotional skills. It includes things like managing difficult emotions, making responsible decisions, handling stresssetting goals, and building healthy relationships.”

Social-emotional learning is now being implemented in schools all over the globe, with very positive results.

As recent research shows, incorporating social-motional learning in school curricula can improve academic performance well into your child’s school career. 

But it’s not just academic benefits that can be reaped here. Social-emotional learning can protect against mental health risks by helping nurture supportive relationships, creating nurturing environments, and fostering skills to cope with life’s challenges.

It’s also been shown to reduce bullying and alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression in the short term.

It’s important to note that implementing social-emotional learning in schools has not been without its challenges.

Criticism of these programs has fired at various factors, such as how racially inclusive they are and whether this form of education is asking too much of teachers who are not trained as counselors. 

The hope is that this feedback will be taken into account as we move toward effectively incorporating this kind of learning into our children’s lives. 

For parents, the really good news is that there is much you can do at home every day with your child to help them develop the key skills that will help them become more resilient against the very real challenges that they face in today’s world.

As Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) explains:

“Families are children’s first teachers and essential to promoting social and emotional learning throughout a child’s life.”

Here are three things you can try right now:

  1. Find age-appropriate material that tackles social-emotional learning at home. PBS’s Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (an off-shoot of the ever-popular Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood) is a great place to start. 
  1. Practice acts of kindness together. Research shows that, in giving to others, we actually give to ourselves, too. In fact, on MRI scans, charitable work lights up the same part of our brains that controls reward and pleasure. (Yep, giving can feel as good as eating something delicious.) In fact, it can even decrease depressive symptoms. 

Talk to your child about what causes they feel passionate about, and start working together to make a difference for others and yourselves.

  1. Get creative! If you need an extra reason to start painting, dancing, or telling stories, here it is! Creative practice can help increase self-awareness and foster empathy for others. 

So get those canvasses out, turn the music up, and warm those puppets up for their next show!

2. Create a supportive environment for your child

Research focused on the COVID-19 pandemic showed that creating a structured home environment is an important defense against mental health challenges in children as young as preschool age. 

But while we all may want to create a safe space for our children to learn and thrive in, how can we do this practically?

Here are some research-backed steps to follow right now:

1/ Put a steady, easy-to-follow routine in place.

Children feel more in control, safe, and engaged in activities when they have a predictable schedule in place.

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be complicated! Here are some tips:

  • Incorporate self-care, like grooming, exercising, and creative projects into the routine.
  • Review their schedule with them in the morning.
  • Include playtime in the schedule. Who doesn’t love having something fun to look forward to?

2/ Set up your physical space to nurture mental space.

Create a learning space where they can do homework and projects (it doesn’t have to be big — just intentional).

Decorate the space so that it feels inviting and set up ground rules for that area. You may want to make it a silent zone at particular times or make it device-free.

3/ Set boundaries and stick to them.

The purpose of setting clear boundaries is not simply to make parenting more manageable. It also an important part of helping your children grow into responsible, caring, disciplined adults. 

Guidelines on boundary setting from Michigan State University include:

  • Planning ahead. Setting rules during a crisis can lead to a chaotic association with boundaries. Rather, try to preempt situations where you may run into trouble and set boundaries ahead of time. (One of these areas is screen time, which we’ll get to in a moment!)
  • Communicate simply and with purpose. Make sure they understand exactly what the boundaries are and why they exist. That way, they will not feel like arbitrary rules but meaningful guides.
  • Expect push-back. Rules are, as they say, made to be broken, and it’s totally normal for them to try to flex their rebellious muscles. Your job is to guide them gently back to the path and ensure that there are consequences for not respecting boundaries.

3. Understand the new threats kids face

We don’t need to tell you that our kids are growing up in a world with a new set of dangers and challenges to the ones we faced — and a huge chunk of these come from the online world.

Cyberbullying has disastrous impacts on children’s mental health — and with nearly half of U.S. teens being bullied or harassed online, it’s vital that we take this threat seriously.

Sextortion, threatening someone with exposing explicit images or videos of themselves, is increasingly targeted at teens.

And while porn has always been around, it’s never been so accessible. 

If all this wasn’t enough, the pandemic hit with all sorts of implications for our lives.

Perhaps one of the most significant was how much it increased teen screen time. (Estimates are that adolescents’ screen time more than doubled over this time.)

The effects of unlimited screen time are multiple, leading to addiction, comparison culture, and dangerous encounters with strangers — all of which detrimentally affect mental health.

We know — all of this feels overwhelming and it’s hard to know how to where to start. But there is help available. Here are the steps to take:

  1. Use the Canopy app. This study showed that our AI-empowered parental control app, coupled with parental input, was effective in reducing harmful content seen by adolescents. It also helped kids reduce their screen time by as much as 50%. The point is there are tools to help you navigate this. You don’t have to do it alone.
  2. Read our blog. Powered by up-to-date research and actionable insights, our digital parenting resources explore a range of topics, including methods to prevent cyberbullying and how to deal with sextortion
  3. Talk, talk, talk. And listen, listen, listen. Child and adolescent psychotherapist Katie Hurley explains the importance of taking your children’s emotional experiences seriously. Rather than “squashing” their big feelings, get curious about them. Encourage them to express their emotions and explain what’s on their minds without judgment. 

4. Normalize mental health treatment

Getting help for mental health issues should be no different from treatment for any other health issue.

Unfortunately, stigma around mental health issues contributes to people not getting the help they need.

In fact, it’s estimated that more than half of people with mental illness do not get help — and often because they fear discrimination. 

Luckily, research is showing a significant change in stigma related to mental health issues. We’re getting better at this!  

So here are some actionable tips to get the help that you and your family need: 

1/ Seek help early. Emerging research is enabling us to detect risks for mental health conditions early on. This is good news as it means that we can avert a lot of the suffering that comes with the struggles of mental illness. 

As Mental Health America explains, this can help kids develop positive relationships, access employment, and lead productive lives. 

If your child is struggling with their mental health, the first step is to talk to your healthcare provider so that you can begin the process of getting them the help they need.

2/ If you find a doctor you like and trust, stick with them. This will give you consistency and mean you don’t have to continually start from square one. 

3/ Keep a diary of your child’s behavior. This can be useful when you want to communicate with a counselor and for you to better understand the journey your child is on. 

4/ Research your family history. If you are looking for support for a biological child, it can be helpful to understand links to other family members’ mental health challenges. A number of mental disorders run in families

That doesn’t mean your child will definitely be afflicted with a mental health concern if someone close to them has suffered from one. But it does help you understand the risks and offer meaningful information to your healthcare provider.

5. Look after yourself (so important!) 

All too often, we forget this crucial step in supporting others. The reality is that we simply can’t provide anything for anyone else if we don’t first look after ourselves. But there’s an even more important reason to care for yourself: your mental and physical health matter, too

If taking care of your own needs right now may be way down on the priority list, here are some ways to switch things up.

  1. Find a support group for parents tackling similar challenges. One of the projects of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is to offer free peer-led support groups that help with learning coping skills, finding strength and community acceptance, and understanding mental health conditions. You can find the details here.
  2. See a counselor. The stress of caregiving for someone else who is struggling is not to be underestimated. Getting professional help is 
  3. Make sure you are rested, fed, and watered. Try to get sufficient sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene (no screens before bedtime, go to bed at the same time every night, and make sure your bedroom is a restful place). Make time to exercise. Eat nutritious meals. Drink enough water. (And if you’re making up excuses as to why this is not possible, stop. Looking after yourself is non-negotiable.)
  4. Talk to your friends. The experience of parenting someone with mental health issues can be incredibly isolating. It’s vital that you share what you’re going through with those you trust. 
  5. Program joy into your life. Again — non-negotiable. Spend some time doing things that you love. Paint that picture, go and see that concert, have that walk in the park. Lean on your community so that you have time to give yourself a break.

FAQs – Supporting Your Child With Mental Health Issues

How do you explain to a child what mental health is?

Especially if your child is very young, it can be very challenging to know how to have a conversation about mental health in a way that is meaningful to them. 

For younger children, NAMI offers the “Meet Little Monster” coloring and activity book, which helps children explore their feelings in a creative way. You can download a copy of the book for free.

They also offer the following advice:

  • Make an analogy to a medical problem that they may be more familiar with. Just like asthma, for example, depression and anxiety are conditions that start in your brain and make you feel unwell. Just like other illnesses, mental health conditions can be treated.
  • Help them identify the physical symptoms that they may be feeling. Are their tummies sore? Do they feel short of breath? This will help them articulate their experience and assist you in understanding what they’re experiencing.
  • Discuss self-care and helpful tips to keep them feeling healthy. These may include exercise, sleep, and diet.
  • Have conversations about all parts of mental health challenges, including suicide. Let them know that they can come to you safely if they ever have suicidal feelings.

What are the common warning signs of mental health issues in children?

If you notice any of the following warning signs, it’s important to speak to your healthcare provider:

  • Harming or trying to kill themselves
  • Planning to harm or try to kill themselves
  • Being sad or withdrawn for two weeks or more
  • Overwhelming fear that doesn’t seem to be attached to an outward cause
  • Getting involved in fights or wanting to hurt others
  • Any severe, out-of-control behavior
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight
  • Difficulty concentrating or sitting still
  • Repeated alcohol or drug use
  • Serious mood swings
  • Drastic changes in their behavior or personality

(Child Mind Institute)

What’s it like for a child with mental health problems?

There’s no one-size-all answer to this question, as mental health issues present differently in different people.

One thing common to most issues, however, is distress.

While your child’s behavior may be disruptive to the community around them, the turmoil they are feeling on the inside is likely as troublesome to them.

The CDC offers this breakdown of mental health disorders that exist in children, including possible symptoms, treatment, and how you can try and prevent them. 

What activities are good for children with depression?

It’s important to seek professional help if you suspect that your child is struggling with depression. NAMI also recommends the following activities:

  • Exercising regularly. (Choose an activity that they really enjoy so that this doesn’t feel like a chore.)
  • Getting regular sleep (9 to 12 hours for 6 to 12-year-olds, and 8 to 10 for teens)
  • Eating healthy meals that they like!
  • Encouraging connection through playdates, social events, and school clubs.

There’s also a lot of research to back up the use of the creative arts in the treatment of depression. Talk to them about why creative practice they might enjoy and see how you can encourage them to pursue it.

What is the best treatment for a child with anxiety?

Again, if you are concerned, the first step is to speak to a healthcare provider. They may need treatment in the form of medication or counseling. 

Then, UNICEF suggests some practical steps you can take to help them:

  • Explore their feelings with them. Get them to describe how they’re feeling and where they think the feeling is coming from. 
  • Bring them to the present moment. Ask them what they see, hear and smell around them. 
  • Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises.
  • Make sure they get the sleep they need 
  • Limit screen time (Canopy can come in handy here!)


If you would like to read further, here are the sources we used for our research:

Dr. Gabor Mate:

The Wisdom of Trauma

Childhood Development

“Hold on to Your Kids”

World Health Organization:

Mental Health of Adolescents

Child Mind Institute:

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning:

What Does the Research Say?

Neurobiology of Stress (Volume 14, May 2021):

A predictable home environment may protect child mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic


The Health Benefits of Giving

The Hechinger Report:

PROOF POINTS: A research update on social-emotional learning in schools 

Journal of Creativity in Mental Health (Volume 9, 2014 – Issue 3):

Enhancing Self-Awareness Through Creative Experiential-Learning Play-Based Activities

The Arts in Psychotherapy (Volume 39, April 2012 – Issue 2):

Moving in and out of synchrony: A concept for a new intervention fostering empathy through interactional movement and dance

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

The Importance of Schedules and Routines


Creating an Emotionally Supportive Home Environment

PEW Research Centre:

Teens and Cyberbullying 2022

American Psychiatric Association:

Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness 

Creative Arts Enhancing Mental Health

National Alliance on Mental Illness:

How to Talk to Your Child About Their Mental Health

Meet Little Monster

Center for Disease Control:

Children’s Mental Disorders

Ready to get started?

We built Canopy to empower families to enjoy a safer digital experience.

Discover Canopy!

parental control app management - phone
Mackbook parental control app management

Ready to get started?

We built Canopy to empower families to enjoy a safer digital experience.

You’re not in this alone.

Get helpful tips, stories, and resources from our network.

You’re not in this alone.

Get helpful tips, stories, and resources from our network.