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Behaviour, emotions and mental health

Looking after your baby, child or teenager's emotional health is just as important as looking after their physical health. Their mood and behaviour can change and appear different at times. It can sometimes be hard to work out why or how to help them. This can be challenging for parents, but understanding your child’s behaviour and emotions can help.

Five teenagers in school uniform smiling and laughing whilst walking down the road. Teenage boy in wheelchair talking to a teenage girl outside their high school woman helping 3 children pack their lunches Four children pulling a rope in a game of tug of war whilst laughing and smiling outside in a park.

If your child has additional needs visit our specific section for more support

Who to contact in a crisis

If you think your child is experiencing a mental health crisis call NHS 111 and select the mental health option to speak to a NHS professional. 

In an emergency always call 999

Local support for you and your family

YOUnited is available to children and young people up to the age of 25 and offers a range of support including therapies, counselling and guided self-help.

Your child's emotional development

From birth, your baby will use their behaviour as a way of communicating with you. They may cry, wriggle or display a subtle expression like moving an eyebrow.

It’s important to support and encourage your baby to communicate with you. You can try:

  • repeating the noises they make
  • cuddling and making eye contact
  • copying the faces they make
  • sticking your tongue out and seeing if they copy
  • using the Five to Thrive approach: respond, engage, relax, play, talk

As your baby develops they may begin learning to sit-up, crawl or walk. They learn best when given a safe space and time to explore their environment.

Your baby will start to show more emotion as they age. By 1 years old they should be able to laugh, smile, show excitement and frustration.

This may be a time when you start to think about leaving your baby with other caregivers. It is important to think about how to do this in a way that feels safe for you all. During this time your baby may start to show some issues with separation anxiety.

Toddlers and young children go through a lot of changes at this stage. You may find they spend a lot more time with other people, maybe at nursery or pre-school.

This is a big change for them and they will be processing a lot of emotions. Toddlers don’t know how to express their feelings like adults.  So, they may have an outburst of emotion when they become upset or frustrated. This is known as a temper tantrum.

Pre-school children start to develop a sense of independence. They may want to do things by themselves. This is a good time to start teaching them skills such as getting dressed and brushing their teeth.

At this age they slowly become aware of other peoples feelings. They are also increasingly able to show you how they are feeling. This may be through their behaviour or their developing language.

Talk with your child from a young age about their feelings. This will help them express their emotions.

If your child is anxious about school transitions or changes read our information on getting ready for primary school.

At this age children start to form their own views and recognise other people’s feelings matter. They are also more able to manage and express how they are feeling.

They may start to push more boundaries as their independence increases. This can be challenging but is a normal part of growing up.

It can help to encourage them to find the words to describe how they are feeling instead. You can try:

  • talking about the feelings you are noticing in them
  • asking them to think about reasons why they might be feeling this way
  • helping them to think about how their body reacts to these feelings
  • encouraging them to come up with helpful ways to manage their feelings

If your child is anxious about school transitions or changes read our information on getting ready for primary school.

As your child develops into a teenager, they may start to show more challenging behaviour. Teenagers can feel their emotions intensely. These emotions can be overwhelming at times.

Often, your child hasn’t yet developed tools to deal with their feelings. They may express their feelings by being argumentative or disrespectful towards others.

You may also notice that your teenager:

  • wants to spend more time alone or with friends
  • rejects your attempts to be affectionate with them
  • appears moody

These are all normal behaviours and are a part of growing up. It is a confusing time for your teenager and it’s important to try and understand how a situation might be affecting them.

Transitioning into secondary school often brings a new wave of challenges. There are new boundaries, rules and expectations. The number of classmates and structure of the day can also affect their behaviour.

Other important factors that impact their behaviour include:

Types of feelings and emotional wellbeing topics

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Who can help

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s behaviour, emotions or mental health, a health professional in our team will be able to offer advice and support.

You can Call Us on 0300 029 50 50 or Text Us on 07520 649887 to start a conversation.

Open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays).

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