Ask an expert: My son's mood and behavior have really changed - what can I do?

Children's Mental Health Week is February 4-10
Children's Mental Health Week is February 4-10

Action for Children gives parents advice on how to deal with major mood changes in young people.

My eight-year-old son doesn't seem to be his usual enthusiastic self, is unable to focus and unwilling to socialise. What can I do to help?

Sue Rogers is a mental health and emotional wellbeing expert at Action for Children (actionforchildren.org.uk) and leads the early help schools programme for teenage depression.

In the run-up to Children's Mental Health Week (February 4-10), she says: "If you find there's been a significant change to your son's moods and behaviour, acknowledge you've noticed a change. The sooner he understands you're aware his mood and behaviour are different, the sooner you can begin to support him.

"Think about the best way to approach an initial conversation to effectively explore what's really going on. You might want to consider a more relaxed and less confrontational setting, such as on a walk together or trip out in the car. Start with some reassurances that you're here to support him, whatever the issue.

"Make time to talk and listen. Children don't always want to talk, so it's important to respect this. If he feels anxious, the best thing to do is let him know you're there if he needs you.

"Try to get into the habit of having chats about how things are going in general. The more you talk and listen, the sooner your son will know that he can come to you with problems.

"Look for patterns - think about what elements of your son's life have changed at school. Does he complain about certain classes? Is he coping with school pressure or issues with his peer group? Is he spending a lot of time on social media?

"Communicate creatively, by asking your son to write down or draw how he's feeling, focusing on key words to explain his lead emotions, such as 'worried', 'unhappy', 'sad' and 'anxious'. This might help him explore how and why he's feeling a certain way.

"Don't be afraid to seek help. It's helpful to know whether others are seeing a physical or emotional change in your son, too. Turn to close family members, friends and his teachers to get a clearer picture of what's happening in his life and how this is impacting his mental health."

Further advice to help your child or teenager with their mental health and emotional wellbeing is available at Action for Children's Build Sound Minds website (buildsoundminds.org.uk).