Raising a child can be a challenging and rewarding experience all at the same time. The behaviors and emotions of a child can change frequently and rapidly, from sadness or irritability to anxiety and more, during their formative years. In most cases, these are just typical developmental phases. However, such behaviors may indicate a more serious problem in some children.
Being mentally healthy during childhood means:
- Reaching developmental and emotional milestones
- Learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems
- Experiencing a positive quality of life
- Exhibiting healthy functioning at home, school, and social activities
Mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions. It is common for many children to occasionally experience worries, fears, and anxieties or even display disruptive behaviors. A diagnosis of a mental disorder can be given when the seriousness and persistence of symptoms cause interferences in the home, academic, and play/activity-based settings. Mental disorders can also interfere with a child’s healthy development, causing problems that can continue into adulthood. Early diagnosis and intervention can help to address future issues in social, emotional, and relationship development, as well as academics and home life. The important consideration is that childhood mental disorders can be treated and managed. Early diagnosis and appropriate services can make a difference in a child’s personal and family life.
Ways to Support
- Love your child unconditionally
- Encourage your children to talk about their feelings and validate their feelings
- Actively listen first, then talk
- Allow plenty of time for play and fun activities
- Discipline with respect and teaching, not shame
- Ask your child about their day
- Teach good sleep habits
- Encourage healthy foods
- Model positive self-care
- Let children be independent, when possible
- When sharing information, be honest with your children (at an age-appropriate level)
- Assist children with problem-solving
- Make time daily to talk with your children
When to Seek Help
Consider seeking help if your child’s behavior:
- Persists for a few weeks or longer
- Causes distress for your child or your family
- Interferes with your child’s functioning at school, at home, or with friends
- If your child’s behavior is unsafe, or if your child talks about wanting to hurt themselves or someone else, seek help immediately
- Children and Mental Health Is This Just a Stage?
- Harvard Deep Dives – Children’s Mental Health
- Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Children’s Mental Health
- Child Mind Institute
- Mental Health America – Youth Mental Health
- National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI)
- Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741 for free 24/7 support from a crisis counselor
- On Our Sleeves – The movement to transform children’s mental health
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
- Boys Town National Hotline (1-800-448-3000) – Serves all children, teens and parents and is open 24 hours per day, 356 days per year and staffed with trained counselors. Can provide support on issues such as anger, depression, school issues, bullying, etc.
- The Trevor Project for LGBTQ youth (1-866-488-7386) – Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth.
- Love is Respect National Abuse Helpline (1-866-331-9474) – 24-hour helpline for teens, parents, friends, and family.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or text TELLNOW to 85944 – 24-hour hotline for any type of domestic abuse, including dating abuse.
- Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator (SAMHSA) – Searchable directory of drug and alcohol treatment programs, which shows the location of facilities around the country that treat substance abuse problems.