By Susan Crain, MSSW, President/CEO
Mental Health America of the Heartland
Just as parents prepare their children for the beginning of the new school year with the right school supplies, it’s also important to consider their mental health. Parents tend to focus on a child’s physical needs such as food, shelter, exercise, immunizations and a healthy living environment. Children’s mental health matters, too. Good mental health helps children to feel secure, to relate well with others and fosters their growth at home and at school. Parents can care for their children’s mental health by:
- Encouraging them to learn how to express their emotions with the understanding that people experience the emotions of pain, fear, sadness, worry and anger as a part of life.
- Celebrating their children’s accomplishments while recognizing their talents and skills and their limits.
- Providing opportunities for children to learn and grow in the school and community.
- Disciplining as a form of teaching instead of physical punishment. This means establishing expectations that are consistent and fair with appropriate consequences of misbehavior.
- Being a role model– -talking about their own feelings, apologizing and using active problem-solving skills.
If parents notice their children have problems with emotions or behavior, it may be the child is experiencing a mental health problem. Parents need to pay attention to any warning signs. Just like with physical illness, treating mental health problems early may help to prevent a more serious illness from developing in the future.
Consider consulting a doctor or mental health professional if a child:
- Feels very sad, hopeless or irritable, overly anxious or worried
- Is scared and fearful; has frequent nightmares
- Is excessively angry
- Uses alcohol or drugs
- Desires to be alone or avoids people all the time
- Hears voices or sees things that aren’t there
- Has difficulty concentrating, sitting still, or focusing
- Performs certain rituals of washing and cleaning often throughout the day
- Talks about suicide or death
- Hurts other people or animals; or damages property
- Has significant changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Loses interest in friends or things they usually enjoy
- Gets behind in school or their grades lower
Addressing a child’s mental health early can prevent any disruption of their children functioning at home, school and the community. Good mental health allows children to think clearly and perform better at school, develop socially and establish relationships with family, friends and adults and learn new skills to be successful.
Susan Crain Lewis, MSSW is the President/CEO of the Mental Health America of the Heartland and is the organization’s lead policy and systems advocate.