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Mental Wellness for Children

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Mental illness in children is a growing problem, especially after the past pandemic year. Rates of childhood anxiety and other mental health disorders are on the rise and, although taking steps to ensure a safe and stable home environment can help to reduce stress-related mental illnesses, we can’t discount genetics and other factors. Early detection is a key component in helping children thrive in the midst of mental illness. So, how do you know if your child is experiencing normal worries and behaviors or if you’re dealing with a deeper issue that needs professional attention?

Is it just acting out?

Some of the most common mental disorders in children include ADHD, anxiety and behavioral disorders such as autism spectrum disorder. Mental disorders in children tend to be more difficult to diagnose because of the constant changes associated with childhood. Children are in a state of flux, showing up with various idiosyncrasies, behavioral changes and a multitude of “phases” even under normal circumstances. Therefore, it’s common for children to go undiagnosed until their school years or beyond when symptoms become more apparent in an educational or their home environment.

It is important to note, however, that if you, as a parent, feel your child is exhibiting atypical behavior in the areas of play, learning, speech, behavior, and/or handling emotions, you should seek the counsel of a pediatrician or other healthcare provider. The earlier a mental disorder is diagnosed, the sooner that child can receive helpful services such as therapies or special learning protocols within their classroom. Furthermore, the family of the child will understand the “why” behind certain behavioral characteristics, making it easier to modify the home environment in order to best support the child.

Consistency is everything

Children’s mental health disorders, like those in adults, are considered chronic illnesses, meaning they don’t ever completely go away. That doesn’t mean that your child will have to suffer forever. Symptoms can be managed well with the right tools, such as medications and therapy. Because children may not be able to voice what is wrong or how they feel, it is incredibly important to have consistency of care. 

This means that parents, teachers and doctors, as well as coaches, social workers and anyone else involved in the child’s life, should be on the same page regarding a comprehensive treatment plan. By providing consistency, caring adults are able to create a safe support network for the child to feel capable of managing their mental illness. This also gives the child a good foundation and framework in knowing how to manage their disorder moving forward into adolescence and, later, into adulthood.

When a child is suffering and can’t name their emotions or define why they exhibit certain behaviors, it can be incredibly painful for the family. No parent wants to watch their child be unable to deal with the world around them. If you feel that your child may be suffering from a mental or behavioral disorder, it is important that you advocate to get them the testing and help they need. In most cases, this starts by talking to your child’s healthcare provider and voicing your concerns. If you don’t feel like you are being listened to, get a second opinion. Your child will be grateful for a parent who was able to get them on the track toward healing and finding their place in the world.

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