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6 Ways to Support Your Child’s Mental Health
When thinking about health, many people focus on physical health. However, mental health is equally essential. Mental health is a combination of emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Often, children’s mental health concerns are minor and resolve quickly. When issues are severe or interfere with everyday life, a child may have a mental disorder, sometimes called a mental illness. Here are six ways to support your child’s mental health, including when to get help.
1. Build a Foundation for Positive Mental Health
Whether you have a toddler or a teen, you can help them be physically and mentally healthy.
Just like crawling and standing, there are social and emotional developmental milestones for young children. To give your little one a strong start, keep track of development and talk with their pediatrician about concerns.
For older children, a sense of belonging and purpose is essential. Feeling included might happen through:
- Having a consistent job to do, such as vacuuming
- Participating in activities they enjoy
- Playing on a sports team
- Volunteering for a cause they’re passionate about
Group activities can help children develop the social skills necessary for strong relationships, further supporting mental health.
2. Teach Ways to Cope with Stress
There are several techniques to help manage challenging emotions or stress, including:
- Gratitude practice: A gratitude practice can improve mental and physical health. Your child could:
- Name three things they’re grateful for at bedtime. Send a card to someone they’re grateful for each week.
- Set aside time to journal what they’re grateful for.
- Mindfulness 5-4-3-2-1: Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment. Help your child use their five senses to practice mindfulness. Have them sit comfortably and quietly, paying attention to their breath. Next, focus on the environment. Ask them to name five things they hear, four things they see, three things they can touch, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste.
- Self-expression: Healthily expressing emotions is an excellent technique for coping with stress. Self-expression can include building with clay, dancing, drawing, singing, or participating in another creative activity.
Practice these skills when your child is calm and happy. This will make them easier during challenging moments.
3. Develop a Routine
For children of all ages, having a consistent daily routine provides a sense of safety and security. A routine can help children cope when other parts of life feel out of control or unpredictable.
Routines also help children improve executive function, a group of skills essential to successfully managing day-to-day life. Developing these skills can lower the risk of having serious mental health concerns.
4. Take Care of Your Mental Health
If a parent has a mental health condition, their child has an increased risk. Support your child’s health by being proactive about your mental health:
- Develop healthy relationships.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Seek out mental health services if needed.
- Talk about mental health as you would any other health topic.
5. Be Aware of Common Mental Health Conditions and Warning Signs
Although it’s normal to have a range of emotions, persistent feelings of anger, anxiety, hopelessness, irritation, or sadness may be a sign of a mental health condition.
Other warning signs may include:
- Changes in appetite, behavior, or energy level
- Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
- Excessive worry
- Feeling guilty, useless, or worthless
- Frequent complaints of headaches or stomach aches
- Loss of interest in favorite activities or spending time with friends
- Self-destructive actions or thoughts
- Substance abuse
Being aware of common conditions can help you detect if your child may need mental health support. Common mental disorders in children include:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Significant life changes, such as a death in the family, community violence, or divorce, may also lead to mental health concerns. Although having difficulty dealing with a life event isn’t a mental health disorder, professional mental health services can help during tough times.
6. Get Support for Your Child’s Mental Health
There are several effective ways to manage and treat mental health conditions. Talk therapy can be an excellent option. Some children may also benefit from medication.
If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, it’s essential to talk with their healthcare provider. Depending on your child’s symptoms and needs, the provider may diagnose and treat them through their primary care clinic or refer them to a childhood mental health professional for specialized care.
If your child is having a mental health crisis, get help immediately.
Signs of a crisis include:
- Attempting or talking about suicide
- Experiencing hallucinations or untrue beliefs
- Harming or threatening to harm themself or others
- Severe aggression, agitation, or destruction of property
If your child or someone else is in immediate physical danger, call 911 or take them to the emergency room.
If your child or teen is having a mental crisis and is physically safe, stay with them and call the Carson Tahoe Health Behavioral Health Services Hotline at (800) 283-7671. You can also call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. A trained counselor will help you and your child get support.
To learn more about children’s mental health, schedule an appointment with a Carson Tahoe pediatric mental health specialist.