Parenting and mental health

Families are where children first learn about love, support and belonging.

Children and young people who are part of a strong and supportive family are more likely to achieve their best possible mental health.

Most parents know this. It can also feel like a lot of pressure.

It’s important to understand that there is no ‘perfect’ family. Families are diverse. Each with its own circumstances, joys and challenges.

As a parent, having information and resources to understand and care for your child can help.

So can looking after your own mental health as much as possible.

Seek support from others when you need to. This can be good for your wellbeing, and your family’s.

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Looking after your mental health and wellbeing as a parent

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Look after your own mental health and wellbeing with our Wellbeing Action Tool.

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Child developmental stages: birth to 18

Understanding your child’s mental health based on their developmental stage and age can help you to better support your child. 

By knowing what to expect at each stage, you can feel better equipped to navigate the challenges ahead - in turn, supporting the wellbeing of yourself as a parent.

You can also learn more about mental health during pregnancy.


Find information and resources on what to expect during pregnancy, perinatal depression, looking after your own mental health and supporting someone who’s pregnant.
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Babies (birth to 12 months)

Discover strategies for managing sleep, feeds and a crying baby in the first 12 months. Foster your baby’s social and emotional development. Recognise the signs of postnatal depression and seek support.
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Toddlers (ages 1 to 3)

Understand your child’s social and emotional development from ages 1 to 3. Discover tips for managing emotional outbursts, clinging behaviour and changes to eating habits. Learn about the importance of play, routines and rituals in supporting your toddler’s mental health and wellbeing.
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Preschool children (ages 3 to 5)

Support your child’s relationships and prepare them for transitions from ages 3 to 5. Help them develop skills to communicate and build relationships. Establish boundaries. Learn about separation anxiety and how to support your child if they’re finding it hard to separate from you.
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School-age children (ages 6 to 8)

Build your child’s resilience and support their transition to school from ages 6 to 8. Help them develop a strong sense of self, manage their emotions and make and keep friendships. Find strategies for how to support a child who’s regularly refusing to attend school.
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Preteens (ages 9 to 11)

Learn more about your child’s development as they approach puberty at ages 9 to 11, including how they might identify with gender and sexuality. Teach them the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict, foster relationships at school and manage screentime. Find resources to learn about bullying and how to protect the mental health and wellbeing of a preteen who’s being bullied.
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Teens (ages 12 to 18)

Support your teen’s sense of identity at ages 12 to 18, including their gender identity and sexuality. Discover strategies to communicate with them about their mental health and wellbeing. Find information and support for managing risks such as alcohol and drug use, self-harm, online safety and bullying.
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Understanding child mental health

Children and young people with positive mental health feel good about themselves.

They’re able to build relationships and express themselves. They can also deal with challenges and adapt to change.

Children’s mental health moves along a continuum. Like an adult’s.

‘Continuum’ means that a child’s mental health is not fixed. It can move along a range from healthy to struggling, and back again.

While most children experience positive mental health, a child can also struggle. They can develop a mental health condition.

It’s important to seek support early.

Visit the Be You website to understand the Mental Health Continuum.

Consider the whole child

It’s important to consider the ‘whole child’ when thinking about your child’s mental health.

You can better understand your child by attempting to understand what’s going on in their world.

A range of factors shapes a child’s life and their mental health and wellbeing:
  • their nature (including their biological make-up)
  • significant events and experiences that happen to them
  • their family, relationships, learning environment and community
  • broader systems, such as government public policies and health services.

You nurture the whole child when you:
  • support their relationships
  • help them develop social and emotional skills
  • acknowledge adversity (for example, poverty or neglect).
Understand ‘the whole child’ in this video on the Emerging Minds website.

Your child’s emotions

As children grow, their emotional and social lives become more complex.

The ability to understand and manage emotions, thoughts and behaviours in positive ways is called ‘regulation’.

Learning to regulate emotions is a developmental process.

It begins when your child is a baby and continues into adulthood. For example, when you soothe a crying baby, you’re helping them regulate their emotions.

Skills for managing a wide range of emotions are important for a child’s mental health and wellbeing.

Children do not develop regulation skills by themselves. They learn from parents and other adults.

Your warm and responsive interactions help your child regulate from infancy through to adulthood.

Learn more about regulation on the Raising Children Network website.

Your child's temperament

Children’s personalities, likes, dislikes and the ways they react to situations can vary a lot. Even children in the same family.

These kinds of differences make up a child’s ‘temperament’.

You can notice a child’s temperament by paying attention to:
  • how they react to people and events
  • how they approach new people or situations
  • how they manage their own emotions and behaviour.
It’s important to adapt your parenting style to a child’s temperament. This helps support their development and builds your relationship.

Find out more about temperament and parenting approaches on the Raising Children Network website.

Strategies for supporting child mental health

There are likely plenty of things you’re doing to support your child’s mental health and wellbeing.

You may already be using the strategies listed below. Or you might find something new to try.
  • Build your relationship with your child.
  • Help your child to manage their emotions.
  • Keep abreast of how your child is doing in their early learning service or school.
  • Know who your child’s friends are.
  • Arrange experiences that build on your child’s strengths.
  • Allow them to try new things and learn from their mistakes.
  • Help them build supportive relationships with other adults.
  • Establish family routines, rituals and rules.
  • Be a good role model for managing family conflict. Use calm, compromise and negotiation.
  • Work together to set goals and solve problems.
  • Be there for your child.
  • Help your child manage their anxious or upset feelings. Provide attention and support.
  • Learn what some common challenges and concerns are for different age groups.
  • Encourage and facilitate help-seeking, including professional support, if needed.
Parents don’t have to get everything right. The important thing is that you are there for your child and supporting them to achieve their best possible mental health.

Find strategies to protect your child’s mental health on the Parenting Strategies website.

Families and adversity

All families experience adversity.

These might include stressful events such as separation, job loss or the death of a loved one.

Families may also experience discrimination, mental health challenges, poverty, substance abuse or family violence.

This can affect the mental health and wellbeing of families.

Acknowledging the impact of adversity early and providing support can help children recover.

Adverse childhood experiences

Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) are very stressful events that occur during childhood.

Childhood adversity might come from experiences of:
  • loss and grief
  • separation or divorce
  • physical or emotional neglect
  • natural disasters
  • a family member falling ill
  • family violence or abuse.
These experiences can have an impact on a child’s health, both physical and mental.

Parents and family members have an important role to play in supporting a child’s recovery.

You can:
  • address the issue with your child early
  • provide a positive and caring relationship to help the child adapt and heal
  • find out more about ACES to help you understand your child’s behaviours
  • strengthen your relationship with your child.
Learn more about ACES and what can help in this fact sheet from Emerging Minds.

Understand how adversity affects children’s development in this Australian Institute of Family Services (AIFS) practice guide.

Family violence

Family violence can happen to people of any gender, sexual orientation or culture.

If you’re experiencing family violence, it’s not your fault.

For domestic abuse counselling call 1800RESPECT. You can also speak to your health practitioner.

In an emergency, call 000.

Family violence can be traumatic for children and young people. Your child can recover from the effects of family violence given the right support.
  • Talk to your child about what’s happening and help them to feel safe.
  • Kids Helpline is a confidential phone and online counselling service for your child.
MensLine Australia is a men’s telephone and online counselling service. It specialises in family and relationship concerns, including family violence.

Developmental delay or disability

Many families in Australia have family members with:
  • disability
  • developmental delay
  • learning difficulties.
You might be a parent with a disability – or have a child with a disability.

In both situations, looking after your mental health and wellbeing is important.

Access services and supports to care for yourself and to lead a full and active life.

Find advocacy services near you on Ask Izzy.

Join a support group for parents and carers of children with disability on MyTime.

Learn about support services for parents with a disability on the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby website.

Parenting with a mental health condition

More than 2 in 5 people have experienced a mental health condition at some stage in their life.

If you are a parent with a mental health condition, it’s important to understand your condition. This can help you look after yourself.

It can also help you make plans with your child and family to prepare for both the good and hard days.

Visit the Children of Parents with Mental Illness (COPMI) website to find tools and resources on:

Work and financial stress

Juggling the expectations of work and family can be challenging.

Many families report experiences of financial stress. This includes having to ask family or friends for financial help or being unable to pay bills on time.

If you’re struggling at work or facing financial hardship, seek help early.

For free national phone financial counselling, you can call the National Debt Helpline.

Learn more about financial wellbeing and mental health.

Find strategies to manage stress at work.

Depression and anxiety in children and young people

We all experience difficulties from time to time, and children and young people are no different.

Like adults, they can experience mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Noticing the signs of depression or anxiety

If you’re worried about your child’s moods or behaviours, the first step is taking time to observe what’s going on.

Signs include:
  • persistent worries or unusual fears
  • sadness and feelings of hopelessness that don’t go away
  • being overly critical of themselves or others
  • avoiding particular situations
  • avoiding friends or family and wanting to be alone most of the time
  • refusing to go to preschool or school on a regular basis
  • inability to get along with other children or peer group
  • noticeable disinterest or decline in school performance
  • frequent aggressive reactions
  • frequent, unexplained temper tantrums
  • hyperactive behaviour or constant movement
  • restrictive or inflexible eating
  • difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep
  • physical complaints (unexplained aches and pains)
  • difficulties with concentration, attention and organisation
  • showing a desire to hurt themself or hurting themself.
Learn more about noticing the signs in infants and young children on The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne website.

Visit the headspace website to understand and support a young person with:

Having the conversation

If you’re noticing signs of distress, you could try problem-solving with your child or teen.

Start by having a conversation with your child or young person.

If your child or teen is in preschool or school, you could also have a conversation with their educator.

This can help you share and gather information on your child’s moods, emotions, peer relationships and behaviours outside the home.

Find tips for talking to a young person about their mental health.

Find strategies for First Nations families to talk about social and emotional wellbeing on the ReachOut website.


Seeking support for your child

If issues persist over weeks or interfere with your child’s daily life or relationships, contact a health professional.

If your child is showing warning signs of suicide or self-harm, get help as soon as possible. In an emergency, call 000.

Understand the roles of child health practitioners in this video series by Emerging Minds.

Find helplines for families.

Find a mental health professional.

Perinatal depression

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Perinatal, antenatal and postnatal depression – what’s the difference?

Antenatal depression is when you experience depression during pregnancy. It affects up to one in 10 women in Australia.

Postnatal depression can develop up to one year after the birth of a child. Up to one in 6 women experience it.

Depression can start before or during pregnancy and continue after childbirth. We use ‘perinatal depression’ to cover the period from conception until your baby is 12 months old.

Depression may also return during the pregnancy and birth of another child.

Perinatal anxiety

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations. We all feel anxious sometimes.

The symptoms of anxiety are not that obvious when you’re pregnant or caring for a newborn.

You might already be feeling a bit more anxious than usual, so it can be hard to know how much is ‘too much’.

If left untreated, anxiety can make parenting a child more challenging.

Helplines for families

It can be hard to know where to start when supporting a child or young person experiencing a mental health challenge.

Sometimes, families just need a little help.

These helplines offer information and advice.
  • 13YARN – crisis support helpline for First Nations Peoples.
  • Butterfly National Helpline – for anyone concerned about eating disorders or body image issues.
  • Headspace – for children aged 12 to 25 to chat, email or speak on the phone with a qualified youth mental health professional.
  • Kids Helpline – telephone and online counselling service for children and young people aged between 5 and 25.
  • Lifeline – crisis support, suicide prevention and mental health support services.
  • Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) – supports people affected by changes to their mental health and wellbeing from pregnancy and until their baby is 12 months old.
  • QLife – webchat and phone peer support and referral service for LGBTIQ+ people and those wanting to support LGBTIQ+ people.

Further resources

  • ABC Education - Mental health education for 10-14 year olds on ABC Education and on iView
  • Adults Supporting Kids (ASK) – information for multicultural families.
  • AllPlay Learn – resources to promote inclusion for children and young people.
  • The BRAVE program – an online program by Uniquest (Uni of Qld) for the prevention and treatment of childhood and adolescent anxiety.
  • Carers Australia - Australian peak body representing unpaid carers, including young carers.
  • Embrace – a platform for multicultural communities to access mental health resources, services and information.

  • Get Up and Grow – a collection of resources for parents on healthy eating and physical activity for children.

  • Momentum - designed to support children and adolescents struggling with anxiety, depression, sleep problems, lifestyle issues.
  • Rainbow Families – advocates for LGBTIQ+ parents and their children.
  • Raising Children Network – parenting videos, articles and apps for children and young people from birth to 18.
  • Reach Out - information, tools and resources to help parents and carers support the 12-18 year-olds in their family environment.

  • Smiling Mind’s Resilient Families Program – provides parents and carers with effective strategies, tools and ways to communicate, to help develop social emotional skills in children.
  • Sleep with Kip – clinically validated picture books to improve child sleep.
  • Surrogacy Australia – supports Australians who are planning on becoming, or who already are, parents via surrogacy arrangements.
  • Transcend – information, support and referrals for transgender and gender diverse children and young people, and their families.
  • Youth and mental health - Beyond Blue's content on youth mental health challenges, factors affecting youth mental health, support options and helping someone else.
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