How to know when your daughter needs your help

Thursday 28 July, 2016


We’ve come a long way in terms of understanding the vital role mental health plays in raising healthy, confident and resilient daughters who are equipped to reach their potential at school and in life.

We now know that sweeping problems under the carpet, or telling a child who is clearly struggling with an issue “not to worry” or “you’ll cope” can sometimes create the opposite effect.  Anxious and depressive thoughts can intensify and become more real to the sufferer if she is not allowed to say, “I’m really not coping,” or she doesn’t have someone to help her to confront and rationalise what’s going on in her mind. These thoughts can then develop into more severe behaviours, such as panic attacks and self-harming, if she goes on feeling unheard.

When it comes to girls, behaviour that sounds a warning bell tends to include:

  • unusual or substantial changes in moods and emotions, such as frequent crying and emotional distress at odd times, for example when alone in bed at night
  • withdrawing and obsession with internet sites, followed by increased emotionality
  • expressing hopelessness and generalised fears, for example, “I’ll never be any good, I’ll never manage”
  • loss of enjoyment and low energy, for example she no longer enjoys sport, socialising or family functions
  • any signs of self-harm, feigning injury or feigning illness, especially at lonely or isolated times, such as late at night in bed.

So, what can you do or say to your daughter to check in with how she’s feeling?

The first step is to listen without interrupting, judging or dismissing her feelings. A ‘walk and talk’ or a side-by-side car ride are good locations for your chat as both tend to be less confronting than a sit-down, face-to-face discussion.

Your daughter needs to know that it is healthy and natural to discuss feelings, fears and anxieties and that she is not just being “silly” or seeking attention. It can also help to offer a little self-disclosure, such as admitting that you too found the HSC stressful, or that you also felt rattled by a recent event.

Where appropriate, you might like to undertake a little research together to uncover solutions or new information that she hasn’t considered previously – this could be as simple as watching a news program or reading an article, depending on her age. Showing and assuring your daughter that help and solutions are available goes some way to assuring her that her problem is temporary and setting her on the path to overcome it.