Your Child’s Mental Health

Your Child’s Mental Health

Mental health is an important part of our overall health. It affects how we think and feel about ourselves and the world around us. Good mental health helps us have positive relationships with others, make good decisions, and cope with life’s challenges.

A mentally healthy child has a positive quality of life. He or she can develop friendships, learn new things, and do well in school. Sometimes children have mental health problems that affect how they feel, think, and behave. These need to be diagnosed and treated early on. If they are not, the child could have more serious problems later in life. These could include severe mental or emotional issues, substance abuse, or even suicide.

Path to improved well being

Helping your child develop good mental health is one of a parent’s most important jobs. This helps lay a foundation for your child’s well being that can continue into adulthood.

There are many things you can do to support your child’s mental health.

Build their confidence and self-esteem

Children with good self-esteem are happier. They are less likely to be swayed by peer pressure, and are able to make better decisions.

  • Praise them. Acknowledge their efforts, not just what they achieve. Offer them praise and encouragement.
  • Give them responsibilities. Assign your child age-appropriate chores around the house. They will know they are contributing and can feel good about doing a good job.
  • Spend time with them. Kids realize they are important when people make time to spend with them.

Teach them resiliency

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 those times.

  • Help them cope with loss and change. Be honest and clear with them. Give them support and reassurance. Try to find positives in the situation, if you can.
  • Help them manage stress. Stress cannot be completely avoided. Teach them methods of handling it, such as taking deep breaths 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.

Support them emotionally

Children can have a hard time dealing with emotions. Your support can help.

  • Listen to them. Let your child express how he or she feels. When you acknowledge their concerns and take them seriously, they know they can trust you.
  • Help them understand their feelings. Encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings. Try to explain to them what they are 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. They feel less stress when things are consistent. Providing routines around activities such as bedtime and mealtimes makes them 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. Research shows that 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. These include 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 emotions or mental health. If you see any of these symptoms in your child, call your family doctor.

  • Frequent episodes of depression, sadness, or irritability.
  • Often feels 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

  • What can I do to keep my child mentally healthy?
  • I have depression. Is my child at increased risk of developing it too?
  • 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 disorders in children?

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children’s Mental Health

National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Child Mental Health