As children get older and more independent, issues that affect them can be harder to spot and deal with.

Learning about potential dangers can give you the knowledge and skills to act if there is a problem. It could also help keep your child safe by preventing problems before they happen.

You know your child best, so if you’ve got a feeling something’s up – you’re right not to ignore it.

My child is acting differently

Women sitting on a sofa

It’s not always easy to know the difference between typical ‘growing up’ behaviour and signs that something’s wrong.

It can be worrying if you notice a change in your child. It could be nothing, but it could mean that they need support. Your child may find it hard to tell you, so go with your gut.

Here are some of the common signs that could mean your child is facing an issue:


  • becoming secretive or withdrawn
  • a change in character
  • repeatedly feeling ‘ill’ on school days
  • a drop in performance at school or college
  • having unexplained money or possessions
  • regularly ‘losing’ lunch money or prized possessions
  • suddenly leaving long-term friendship groups to join new ones
  • a decline in confidence
  • having nightmares or other sleeping problems
  • knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age

A helping hand for parents and carers video

Watch the video for more information.

What could be wrong?

A young girl

As children grow up, particularly when moving between primary and secondary school, they want to become more independent and experience new things. This could put them in a vulnerable position at times.

These are some of the issues you should be aware of so you can help keep your child safe or support them if they are already facing an issue:

  • alcohol and drugs
  • bullying
  • child criminal exploitation and ‘county lines’
  • child sexual abuse and exploitation
  • exploitation by extremist or radical influences
  • knife harm
  • online safety
  • sex and relationships

You might have heard about some of these issues but do not think that they would affect you and your family. But it is important for all parents and carers to know about them.

You can learn more about these issues or find out how to get support in the next section.

What can you do?

Two men sitting at a table talking

If you’ve noticed a change in your child’s behaviour, there are things you can do – such as starting a conversation or getting more support.

Start a conversation

Having regular and open conversations with your child will help you keep them safe and prevent future problems.

If you’re worried, it’s even more important to have an honest talk with them. It’s often the best first step to finding a resolution.

How you handle the conversation will depend on your child’s age and what you want to talk about. But it will always be up to your judgement.

Talking about tricky topics can feel difficult, but it doesn’t need to be. Often, it’s the best way to understand what your child is going through and show them that you are there to support them.

Visit the NSPCC website for help with talking about difficult topics.

If you are worried about a child

If you feel that a child is in immediate danger, call 999.

You can contact the NSPCC Helpline for support and advice if you are worried about a child’s safety or wellbeing. You can also report concerns to the police on their non-emergency number, 101.

Get information and support

A man talking on a mobile phone

If you are worried about specific issues, resources and support are available to help you decide what to do next.

Alcohol and drugs

For guidance on young people’s consumption of drugs and alcohol:

If you are worried about a child or young person’s alcohol consumption:

  • call Drinkline on 0300 123 1110

If you are worried about a child or young person’s use of drugs:

  • visit Talk to FRANK – a friendly and confidential service that gives honest information and advice on drugs

Child criminal exploitation and county lines

‘County lines’ is a term used to describe the criminal exploitation of children for the purpose of selling drugs. For more information:

If you are worried that a child you care for is involved in child criminal exploitation:

  • call the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline on 08000 121 700 for free, confidential guidance or advice

Child sexual abuse

Find out how to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse:

If you are worried about your child being a victim of sexual abuse or grooming online:

Exploitation by extremist or radical influences

For more information:

If you are concerned about your child or young person being exposed to radical influences:

Resources for children with additional needs

You can use all the guidance and support on this page if your child has additional needs, like special educational needs (SEND) or disabilities.

There are also more resources that may help you support your child or prevent them from being harmed:

The NSPCC also offer tailored PDF versions of the Talk PANTS guides for:

They also offer a video version on YouTube for deaf children and parents/carers.

Visit Internet Matters’ advice hubs for guidance tailored to children and young people with additional needs:

For support for foster carers and young people in care to talk about their online lives:

Other sources of support

You can also:

  • contact your GP if you’re worried about your child’s health or wellbeing
  • find contact details for your local authority children’s social care team
  • speak to your child’s school if you are concerned – schools have a safeguarding responsibility for those in their care so they may be able to look at your child’s wellbeing and offer support to them in and around the school day

Partner organisations

The Home Office has created this website in collaboration with the following partner organisations.

You can find more support and advice on their websites.