Did you know that one in five children has a diagnosable mental health condition? Yet, less than a quarter of youth who need mental health care receive it. Don’t let your child be one of them. Just as parents play a vital role in their children’s physical health, they should prioritize their mental health, too.
In general, there are three strategies to foster your child’s mental health. Parents can help their children develop resiliency through everyday activities. They should also stay in tune with their children so they can be aware of any mental health symptoms that develop. Lastly, parents should ask for help if their child needs it.
Creating structure and routine for your children can help them feel they have a sense of control and consistency.
Create Healthy Habits
Make sure your child gets well-balanced meals, lots of water, exercise, and plenty of sleep. Coping with stress is easier if you’re not hungry and tired.
Spend quality time with your children, making face-to-face conversation a priority. Point out their strengths and abilities and the importance of making appropriate choices and treating others with kindness and respect. Be a good listener to validate their feelings. Be honest and open if you have concerns.
Be Media Savvy
Understand social media and establish boundaries for its use. Use parental control features on media devices to restrict access to inappropriate content. Also, limit screen time for yourself and children so you’ll have more time for personal interaction.
Model Ways To Deal With Stress
Encourage open and honest discussion about stress, both yours and theirs. Show your child how to handle stressful situations to convey, “We will get through this, and be okay.” Model problem-solving and time-management techniques in your daily life, and help children apply them to their own situations. Show them ways to reduce stress, such as exercise, helping others, and spending time outdoors.
Teach your children that if they ever feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or confused by a situation or something they see on TV or online, they should reach out to an adult they trust. Model that behavior yourself by asking for help when you, or your children, need it.
Be Aware of Symptoms
Look For These Signs That Your Child Needs Help
Life happens. It’s natural to react to stressful situations with fear and anxiety. But, when does your child’s response to stress need closer attention? If your child’s anxiety and behavior are regularly having a negative impact at school, home, and in social circles, it’s time to reach out.
Here are some red flags:
- Are they sleeping excessively, or experiencing insomnia?
- Have they experienced a dramatic weight loss?
- Do they express feelings of hopelessness or loss of self-esteem?
- Is their behavior disruptive on a regular basis?
- Are their grades dropping?
- Have they lost interest in attending class?
- Have they dropped out of their usual activities?
- Have they isolated themselves from friends and family?
- Are they showing a personality shift, excessive anger, paranoia, or secrecy?
- Is your child no longer willing to talk with you about what’s going on?
- Do you suspect drug or alcohol abuse?
- Are you worried they could harm themselves or others?
Ask for Help When You Need It
Seek Out a Qualified Mental Health Care Provider
First, schedule a visit with your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider. This should be someone both you and your child have a relationship with and trust.
Pediatricians can refer children to CHKD for further mental health assessment and outpatient therapy. Information about mental health services at CHKD can be found at CHKD.org/MentalHealth.
Parents can also seek mental health services with a community mental health provider by contacting their insurance company for a list of providers in their network.
If your child is having a mental health crisis and you feel they are in immediate danger of hurting themselves or others, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department. Another option is to call the 24-hour crisis line of the Community Services Board in your area. Visit CHKD.org/MentalHealth for additional information about how to recognize a mental health emergency in a child.
Stephanie Osler, LCSW, is the Director, CHKD Mental Health Services.
The King’s Daughters, founding organization of CHKD, will be raising funds for the hospital’s mental health program through a variety of events and activities held throughout the year. One way you can help is by participating in the upcoming 14th annual RunWalk for the Kids on Saturday, May 11, at Waterside District in Norfolk. Participate in the 8K run, 2-mile walk, or 1-mile FunRun for the kids. The event will also include family activities, music, and vendor booths. Visit RunWalkForTheKids.org for registration information.