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Mental Health in Children

Updated on September 16, 2012
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What is mental health?

Mental health refers to “A state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life.” (Retrieved on 1/9/12 from www.thefreedictionary.com)

How to Maintain and Help Your Child's Mental Health

As an elementary school teacher, I spend most of my life interacting with and observing children. I watch them light up with curiosity and discovery, as well as struggle with friendships and boundaries. Each child is unique and develops at his or her own pace. There are many bench marks emotionally, socially and of course, physically. Now days, parents have access to many sources of information such as the internet to help answer many of their questions.

Parents often have confided in me concerning their children’s mental health. Many have little training in the area of child development and much less in the way of child psychology.

Common questions include:

· Is my child’s behavior normal?

· What can I do to help them cope with difficult circumstance?

· When do I know if I should seek professional help?

These questions and many more, come from parents sincerely wanting to provide the best for their children. There are often no “one size fits all answers” because of the distinctiveness of each child and their household. Ultimately, families, especially in the first five years, have the greatest impact on the development of a child. There are ways that families can promote good mental health.


Interact closely and often

As early as birth, children need to feel physical contact. Holding a baby and interacting through diaper changes, feeding and play is essential to their mental and emotional development. As a child grows, they require time and attention.

Socialization

By age three, children should begin interacting with other children. These early experiences are where children begin to understand themselves and social dynamics. They start to develop empathy for other people, accept differences and face conflicts. Children must begin to build this foundation early in order to later face the challenges associated with dealing with other people.

Discuss feelings

Children experience emotions deeply and often. Allow your child to feel their emotions without judgment. Anger, for example, is not a “bad” emotion; what can be “bad” is how people deal with it. The next time your child feels angry, say “I feel like that too sometimes” and then giving him or her space. Take the time to talk about feelings and give your child options for what to do when they feel an emotion such as anger or sadness. I often suggest “quiet places,” drawing pictures or a cuddly toy to help children self-soothe. You would be amazed at how well children can learn to manage their emotions independently! Managing emotions is a key component to healthy mental health.

Logical consequences

It comes natural to want the best for your child. As a result, parents often step in when children make mistakes, jumping in to “save the day.” While this might make you a momentary hero, it can also keep your child from learning a necessary lesson. One example is when a child forgets his or her homework. I cannot tell you how many parents call, email or even show up with the left homework! This only leads to a child depending more on a parent. Good mental health involves learning to be independent. If you allow your child to experience the natural consequence now, he or she may make better decisions later.

Be an example

Parents are a child’s first role model. You are the most consistent example of adulthood they see. In order to help your child have good mental health, you must have it yourself. Be willing to face your own issues and problems for the sake of raising healthy children.

Common Mental Health Issues of Children

Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety involves deep rooted fears and phobias. More than just feeling mildly afraid, anxiety disorders can be debilitating.

Anger: As previously discussed, anger is an emotion and it is not “bad.” However, children that experience an intense level of anger or are consistently upset may have deeper issues.

Separation Disorders: Adjusting from being with a parent to being without a parent, such as on the first day of Kindergarten, is common. However, if a child is having trouble separating consistently, it may be troublesome for both the child and the parents. Again, it may be a sign of other development or emotional issues.

Night Terrors: Nightmares are something that most children have at some point. When a child has persistent nightmares that are interrupting their normal sleep routine, it is time to see a doctor.

Social Disorders: Navigating social situations can be challenging for any child. For some children, it can be nearly impossible. If persistent fears or conflicts arise, seeking help early might be a wise decision. I have seen several children start seeing social therapists between the ages of 4-6 years old. Within a tear these children showed mark improvement.

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When to Seek Help

It can be difficult to determine when to reach out for help. Many mental health issues may appear normal but can be problems when they occur frequently and intensely. Here are three signs it is time to seek professional help:

1. School recommendation- A school will typically only make a recommendation when they are concerned. This should be taken seriously.

2. It is making your child unhappy- If your child is experiencing negative emotions, this is a sign that they may need help. Children do not always have the words to describe what they are feeling but their actions are usually clear.

3. You are concerned- You know your child best. If you are noticing major changes or just general unhappiness, seek help. Go with your gut feeling.

The health of children is a major concern for any adult in their lives. It is our responsibility as adults to do all we can to help them. By taking actions that promote good mental health and recognizing when there is a problem, you can help ensure that you are doing your part.

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    • KrystalD profile image
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      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks megni :)

    • megni profile image

      megni 5 years ago

      KrystalD

      Thanks for answering. Children deserve good teachers and it's apparent you areone of those. Keep up the good work.

    • KrystalD profile image
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      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Megni, It can be very difficult to get through to parents when denial is present. This is something I have experience with. As far as other students, I find that they can be very accepting of individual differences. We rarely label children in a way that others would know their diagnosis but it is apparent to the others what certain children struggle with. We tend to spend several points in the year discussing how we each have different things we work on in school and in life. Therefore, we all strive for acceptance and tolerance so that each student can feel safe taking the risks needed to learn and grow. This might sound idealistic but it is actually what happens in the classes I teach in.

    • megni profile image

      megni 5 years ago

      Krsystal D,

      Your hub is great. Childhood is the best place to spot potential mental illness and who better than teachers. The problem of denial is so great in adults and children sense this from parents, I wonder how children react in classes to children with known mental health issues. Do you find this an issue in your classroom?

    • KrystalD profile image
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      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      cardelean-This has absolutely been my observations! Issues involving issues of mental health are very difficult for many parents to accept. I have also seen the same defensiveness arise around learning disablities. My hope is always to help parents see their children as individuals with strengths and weaknesses like any human being. No one is better or worse-just unique.

      debbie roberts-You are a hero! You are absolutely right about finding these issues early. I recently had a 7 years old student diagnosed with dyslexia. He is so relieved to know he is not "stupid." Because he is so young, his learning specialist told me he is unusually receptive and positive. The earlier the better! If testing was not so expensive, which it can be, I nearly feel each child could use a full profile! I think the more we know about kids, the better we can help them!

    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 5 years ago from Greece

      I like your hub topic. I especially like the logical consequences - children must be allowed to learn through their mistakes and also the fact that we must set good examples for them to follow.

      It can't be expressed enough how important it is to seek help and advice if you think your child is behaving different than what is considered normal. I speak from experience, we only realised our son has a high functioning autism when he was about 11 years old and we had just put his awkward behaviour down to his personality. The older the child gets diagnosed with a disorder, the harder it is for them to benefit from the therapies they may need.

      A definite vote up from me!!

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      I think that many parents are very uncomfortable with handling mental illness issues and automatically get defensive when schools suggest that there may be a bigger issue at hand. I see it often. With a physical concern it can be seen and is often interpreted as being more socially acceptable. Good points in your hub.

    • KrystalD profile image
      Author

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you so much K9keystrokes. I really love how I get to express myself here and share what I have learned working with children. I am a very graetful hubpages newbie!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 5 years ago from Northern, California

      You make some very good points, and your information is spot-on. You are off to a great start KrystaID! Welcome to HubPages!

      Cheers~

      K9

    • KrystalD profile image
      Author

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you kelley! I really liked this topic and hope I did it justice.

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Very useful and informative hub. Thanks for the reminders and the information about the importance of mental health in children.

    • KrystalD profile image
      Author

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      @Chaval-Thanks for taking the time to comment. I always try to write about topics that matter to me.

      @Steph-Many parents over look recommendations from schools. In actuality, schools are full of professionals that know a lot about children. Their insights are valuable and really should be taken seriously. I am elated someone agrees!

      @Simone-Thank you for stopping by and of course, posting this AWESOME topic! Children are vital and how we care for them now, affects the state of our FUTURE world. I care.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      This is so helpful, especially since kids are changing and growing so quickly and it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between a short-term problem and a serious issue. Thanks for offering so many tips on what to look out for and when to take action!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Very useful hub - from ways to improve children's mental health to following up when a potential issue is identified. I especially like the fact that you point out that, when a school makes recommendation, you should take it seriously. Bookmarking and sharing - Best, Steph

    • Chaval profile image

      Chaval 5 years ago from UK

      Interesting and sensible insights. Thanks.