By Anvi Kevany, Administrative Assistant
As a parent, you always want what is best for your child and strive to provide it for them. Developmental specialists, health providers and other experts are always researching and recommending ways to raise a child in order to reach their full potential. One of the focuses for parents should be the mental health of a child and understanding and learning positive mental health practices. (1)
But how do you know whether or not the emotions that your child is feeling are normal? Or if your child may need additional mental health intervention? Certain life stressors, changes or transitions may cause behavioral changes in a child, and these changes may be normal. For example, it is normal for a child to start acting out after the arrival of a new baby.
However, if they seem extreme or go on long after the event, you may want to consult a professional such as a mental health counselor, school nurse, school counselor or another health care specialist if a child you know (2):
- Feels very sad, hopeless or irritable
- Feels overly anxious or worried
- Is scared and fearful; has frequent nightmares
- Is excessively angry
- Uses alcohol or drugs
- Avoids people; wants to be alone all of the time
- Hears voices or sees things that aren’t there
- Can’t concentrate, sit still, or focus attention
- Needs to wash, clean things, or perform certain rituals many times a day
- Talks about suicide or death
- Hurts other people or animals; or damages property
- Has major changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Loses interest in friends or things usually enjoyed
- Falls behind in school or earns lower grades.
Because children often can’t understand difficult situations on their own, you should pay particular attention if they experience (3):
- Loss of a loved one
- Divorce or separation of their parents
- Any major transition—new home, new school, etc.
- Traumatic life experiences, like living through a natural disaster
- Teasing or bullying
- Difficulties in school or with classmates
What Parents Can Do (2):
- Care for your children’s mental health just as you do for their physical health.
- Pay attention to warning signs, and if you’re concerned there might be a problem seek professional help.
- Let your children know that everyone experiences pain, fear, sadness, worry and anger and that these emotions are a normal part of life; encourage them to talk about their concerns and to express their emotions.
- Be a role model — talk about your own feelings, apologize, don’t express anger with violence, and use active problem-solving skills.
- Encourage your children’s talents and skills, while also accepting their limitations. Celebrate your children’s accomplishments.
- Give your children opportunities to learn and grow, including being involved in their school and community and with other caring adults and friends.
- Think of “discipline” as a form of teaching, rather than as physical punishment; set clear expectations and be consistent and fair with consequences for misbehavior; make sure to acknowledge both positive and negative behaviors.
- Lastly, just be a parent to your child, and let the professionals do their job, as that is what they are trained for.
Mental disorders in children are treatable. Early identification, diagnosis and treatment help children reach their full potential and improve the family dynamic. Children’s mental health matters! To learn more, talk to a doctor or a mental health professional.
Additional Resources: Some of these organizations have local affiliates, provide support groups both within the community and online, and provide resources such as workshops and classes. In addition, your local school district has mental health resources, or may partner with community organizations that provide mental health services.
- Suicide Prevention Webinar from VP for Health & Community Concerns and suicideispreventable.org
- The Importance of Prevention and Wellness
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Child Mind Institute
- Learn more about Suicide Prevention
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Psychological Association
- Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
- Kid’s Mental Health Information Portal