As fall approaches that also means children will be heading back to school. With a new school year approaching, at some point you may be wondering if your child’s mental health is OK or if they need professional support.
When it comes to your child’s mental health, parents are often at a loss as to what constitutes simple, age-appropriate difficulties and what signals a larger problem best addressed with a licensed therapist. This can be especially difficult to discern if the child is very young and unable to adequately verbalize how they’re feeling. When armed with some warning signs, parents and other caregivers can feel more prepared to respond quickly if concerns arise.
Parenting is a big challenge
When we talk about children’s mental health, it’s important for parents to approach this with a lot of self-compassion. While I personally don’t work with children directly, I sometimes work with parents as they navigate their own lives and the challenges of raising children. It’s incredibly hard work! Unfortunately, there is a lot of information out there that leaves parents harshly judging themselves for perceived failures and for not being perfect. If you’re reading this and that idea has ever crossed your mind please remember that you don’t have to be perfect to be a good parent.
When it comes to parenting, perfect is not a reasonable goal. Consistent good effort is.
Children do not come with a handbook (although there are so many great parenting resources out today). Yet, it can be confusing to figure out where to find the best, and healthiest information. Know that there is no one perfect book that can teach you everything that you need to know in order to be a great parent. If you find yourself struggling with managing the stress and frustrations of parenthood, working alongside a therapist of your own can be tremendously helpful.
Signs your child’s mental health needs more support
Child mental health is notoriously challenging because children can’t often communicate with the kind of sophistication that adults do. They likely don’t have all the right words to describe their experience, which can leave parents confused and frustrated. Still, it can be helpful to attempt to have conversation with your child to see what you can learn about what they need most, and how you can best support them.
For the most part, you can learn a lot about a child’s mental health through behavioral observation. It’s a common way, especially for young children, to communicate their feelings. Behaviors at home and at school can provide valuable information on what a child needs in order to feel safer, more balanced and in control of their emotions and actions.
Here are some common behavioral indicators that your child’s behavior might require professional attention:
- Drastic changes in mood and temper
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Property destruction
- Picking fights with others, acting out or otherwise aggressive behavior
- Thoughts of suicide or self-injury
- Bed wetting (especially in post-potty age children)
- Skipping school
- Changes in sleep cycles or appetite
- Isolation or lack of verbal communication
Early intervention is key
If you observe these behaviors in your child, try not to feel ashamed or settle into self-criticism. Every child has their own unique way of experiencing, and responding to, life’s circumstances. And a child having mental health issues doesn’t mean that a parent has failed them or made some horrible mistake in parenting. Once you recognize these signs, let it be the catalyst for seeking the help you, and your child, needs to move forward. Seek out a local family therapist or professional counselor who specializes in working with children. That specialist will work with your child to help them work towards age-appropriate behavior and help them get to better mental health.