“Mental health in childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems.” Children that are mentally healthy have a more positive quality of life and are able to perform better at home, at school, and within their communities.
“Mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, which cause distress and problems getting through the day.”
Signs of mental health disorders can change over time and as a child grows. You may notice difficulties in how a child plays, learns, speaks, and acts or how they handle their emotions. “Symptoms often start in early childhood, although some disorders may develop during the teenage years. The diagnosis is often made in the school years and sometimes earlier. However, some children with a mental disorder may not be recognized or diagnosed as having one.”
Warning signs that a child may have a mental health condition include:
Mood changes: Feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.
Intense feelings: Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
Behavior changes: These include drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently, or expressing a desire to badly hurt others.
Difficulty concentrating: Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
Physical symptoms: Might develop headaches and stomachaches rather than sadness or anxiety.
Physical harm: Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-injury, also called self-harm. This is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself.
Early diagnosis and appropriate services for children and their families can make a difference in the lives of children with mental disorders.
- Before a child is diagnosed with a mental health condition, parents may experience feelings of helplessness, anger and frustration. Ask a child mental health provider for advice on how to change the way you interact with your child, as well as how to handle difficult behavior.
- Seek ways to relax and have fun with your child.
- Praise his or her strengths and abilities.
- Explore new stress management techniques, which might help you understand how to calmly respond to stressful situations.
A loving caring peaceful household where stress is limited is one of the best strategies to help combat mental health issues in young children. Studies have shown that children who have a caring adult who talks with and encourages them and spends relaxing and fun time with them, do better in school and have healthier interaction with their peers and other adults than those who do not. A loving caring peaceful household where stress is limited is one of the best strategies to help combat mental health issues in young children. Studies have shown that children who have a caring adult who talks with and encourages them and spends relaxing and fun time with them, do better in school and have healthier interaction with their peers and other adults than those who do not. Work with a pediatrician, school personnel, or licensed pediatric mental health professionals to find the best supports for your child.
Every parent needs help and ideas as they work to raise physically and emotionally healthy children who do well in school. Contact your local school, family doctor, or pediatrician to learn more about parenting resources, free parenting classes, and parenting support groups in your community.
Routines help relieve stress and anxiety. Children are more relaxed and secure when they know what to expect and what’s next. The fear of the unknown can bring on stress, interrupted sleep, health issues, and poor social development. Encourage routines around bedtime, meals, school work, playtime and starting the day. Routines help children understand limits and boundaries, learn self-control, and learn to properly respond to frustrating experiences and delayed satisfaction. Routines and structures in the home are also strategies that prepare young children for starting school where they will learn new routines and structures.
A variety to healthy foods at this age support physical and mental growth and development. Explore healthy recipes to introduce new foods that are fun to eat and that the child can help prepare. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends family meals that are low in fat, salt, and sugar. Healthier fats come from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
- A daily healthy breakfast (filled with protein and whole grains) is essential for learning.
- Water and a variety of fruits and vegetables daily also support healthy development.
- Limit juice, soft drinks, caffeine, and snacks filled with sugar and salt.
With a healthy diet make time for play and exercise. During this stage of childhood development, kids reap great benefits riding bikes, playing on playgrounds, swimming, and being members of athletic teams. Most children find these activities fun and relaxing which contributes to mental health. WV YMCAs offer children programs and classes throughout the year. For additional ideas contact your school, community recreation center, Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts, faith-based institution, county parks and recreation, and universities.
Calming exercises can be a big help for you and child. Here are just a few that might be of interest:
Talk to your child’s doctor. Describe the behavior(s) that concerns you.
Talk to your child’s teacher, their close friends or loved ones, or other caregivers to see if they’ve noticed any changes in your child’s behavior.
Consider seeking family counseling or the help of support groups, too. It’s important to understand your child’s illness and feelings, as well understand what you can do to help your child.
Inform your child’s teachers and the school counselor that your child has a mental health condition. By doing so, you can work with the school staff, if necessary, to develop an academic plan to address and best meet your child’s needs.