Mental health is just as important as physical health. It affects how we think and feel about ourselves and the people around us. Good mental health promotes positive relationships, good decisions, and healthy coping skills.
A mentally healthy child can develop friendships, learn new things, and do well in school. Poor mental health can negatively affect how a child feels, thinks, and behaves. Early detection and treatment can help. Ignoring your child’s mental health, could lead to serious problems later in life. These could include severe mental or emotional issues, substance abuse, or even suicide.
Path to improved well being
Nurturing your child’s mental health is one of a parent’s most important jobs. It helps lay a foundation for your child’s well being into adulthood.
There are many things you can do to support your child’s mental well being.
Build confidence and self-esteem
Children with good self-esteem are happier. They are less likely to be swayed by peer pressure. They are able to make better decisions.
- Praise them. Acknowledge their efforts and achievements. Offer encouragement.
- Give them responsibilities. Assign your child age-appropriate chores. They will feel good about contributing.
- Spend time together. Kids know they are important when people spend time with them.
Challenges are part of life. It can be hard to watch our children struggle or be hurt. But you can teach them how to make it through tough times.
- Help them cope with loss and change. Be honest and clear. Support and reassure your children. Try to find positives in the situation, if you can.
- Help them manage stress. Stress cannot be avoided. Teach them methods of handling it. This might include deep breathing or going for a walk.
- Help them learn from setbacks. Challenges and setbacks are good learning opportunities. Help your child figure out what they can learn from the mistakes they make.
Provide emotional support
Children can have a hard time dealing with emotions. You can help by:
- Listening to them. Let your child express his or her feelings. Acknowledge their concerns and take them seriously to develop trust.
- Help them understand their feelings. Try to explain to your child what he or she is feeling and why.
- Teach them to manage their feelings. Knowing what to do with feelings is a challenge for kids. Teach them appropriate ways to express themselves in a healthy way.
Provide safety and security
Children need to feel safe and secure in their homes and in their relationships.
- Give unconditional love. Make sure your child knows you love them all the time, no matter what their accomplishments may be.
- Maintain routines. Children feel more secure when they know what is coming. Consistency reduces stress. Providing routines around activities such as bedtime and mealtimes makes children feel safe.
- Help them be physically healthy. Children need a healthy body to have a healthy mind. Make sure they get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and get regular exercise.
Things to consider
Sometimes children have serious mental health problems. Half of mental health disorders show their first signs before age 14. You can’t control some of the factors that can lead to this. This includes family history, brain chemistry, and life experiences that cause stress or pain.
There are common signs that a child is struggling with his or her mental health. If you see any of these symptoms, call your family doctor:
- Frequent episodes of depression, sadness, or irritability.
- Frequently feeling worried or anxious.
- Trouble sleeping, either too much or not enough.
- Periods of intense activity.
- Hyperactivity or constant fidgeting.
- Declining performance in school.
- Avoids spending time with friends or family.
- Frequent temper tantrums.
- Stomachaches or headaches with no physical explanation.
- Fear of gaining weight.
- Excessive dieting or exercising.
- Self-harm, such as cutting or burning the skin.
- Substance abuse.
- Thoughts of suicide.
Mental health conditions that are common in children include ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, and depression.
Questions to ask your doctor
- If I have depression, is my child at increased risk of the same?
- What mental illnesses are hereditary?
- What kind of treatment is best for what my child is experiencing?
- Should my child see a psychiatrist?
- Does my child need medicine?
- What are the side effects of medicines used to treat mental health disorders in children?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.