Your Child’s Mental Health – familydoctor.org

Mental health is 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 down the road. These could include serious mental or emotional problems, substance abuse, or even suicide.

Path to better health

Taking care of your child’s mental health is one of the most important tasks of parents. Helps lay the foundation for your child’s well-being into adulthood.

There are many things you can do to support your child’s mental well-being.

Develop confidence and self-esteem.

Children with good self-esteem are happier. They are less likely to be influenced by peer pressure. They are capable of making better decisions.

  • Congratulate them. Recognize their efforts and achievements. Offer encouragement.
  • Give them responsibilities. Give your child age-appropriate chores. They will feel good about contributing.
  • Spend time together. Children know they are important when people spend time with them.

Teach resilience

Challenges are part of life. It can be difficult to see our children struggle or be hurt. But you can teach them how to get through tough times.

  • Help them cope with loss and change. Be honest and clear. Support and reassure your children. If you can, try to find positive aspects of the situation.
  • Help them manage stress. You can’t avoid stress. Teach them methods to handle it. This could include taking deep breaths or going for a walk.
  • Help them learn from setbacks. Challenges and setbacks are good learning opportunities. Help your child discover what he can learn from the mistakes he makes.

Provide emotional support

Children may have difficulty dealing with emotions. You can help by:

  • Listening to them. Let her child express her feelings. Acknowledge their concerns and take them seriously to build trust.
  • Help them understand their feelings. Try to explain to your child what he feels and why.
  • Teach them to manage their feelings. Knowing what to do with feelings is a challenge for children. Teach them appropriate ways to express themselves in healthy ways.

Provide security and protection

Children need to feel safe in their homes and in their relationships.

  • Give unconditional love. Make sure your child knows you love him all the time, no matter what his accomplishments are.
  • Maintain routines. Children feel safer when they know what to expect. Consistency reduces stress. Providing routines around activities like bedtime and mealtime 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 exercise regularly.

Things to consider

Sometimes children have serious mental health problems. Half of mental health disorders show their first signs before the age of 14. Some of the factors that can cause this cannot be controlled. This includes family history, brain chemistry, and life experiences that cause stress or pain.

There are common signs that a child is struggling with their mental health. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your primary care doctor:

  • Frequent episodes of depression, sadness, or irritability.
  • Feeling worried or anxious frequently
  • Trouble sleeping, whether too much or too little
  • Periods of intense activity
  • Hyperactivity or constant restlessness.
  • Decreased performance in school
  • Avoid spending time with friends or family.
  • Frequent tantrums
  • Stomach pains or headaches without physical explanation.
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Dieting or exercising excessively
  • Self-harm, such as cutting or burning your skin.
  • Substance abuse
  • Thoughts of suicide

Mental health conditions commonly seen in children include ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, and depression.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • If I have depression, is my child at greater risk for it?
  • What mental illnesses are hereditary?
  • What type of treatment is best for what my child is experiencing?
  • Should my child see a psychiatrist?
  • Does my child need medication?
  • What are the side effects of medications used to treat mental health disorders in children?

Resources

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

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Children’s mental health

Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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