Discussing Mental Health With Children

As a parent, having a happy and healthy child is indispensable. Yet, in an unabashed world filled with unforeseen circumstances leaving a lasting imprint on the world, it is important to make your child aware and equipped to handle real-life issues. Anxiety, stress, and negative emotions are at the forefront of an array of mental health issues. Discussing mental health with your child is the first step in a nurturing and preventative approach.

How To Talk About Mental Health

Here at Wake Forest Pediatrics, we know talking about mental health with your child is never an easy conversation to strike up, as you hope they never have to endure that type of pain. However, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health, half of all chronic mental health conditions begin by the age of 14. This makes childhood a pivotal time to practice self-care, provide outlets for healthy expression, and develop coping skills. Knowing the ways to talk to your children about mental health and paying attention to the warning signs is paramount to their overall health.

What To Look For

With approximately 4.4 million children aged three to 17 diagnosed with anxiety and 1.9 million diagnosed with depression, mental health conditions in children are not uncommon. This frequency of mental health diagnoses makes knowing the warning signs an essential preventative measure. Some frequent behaviors associated with mental health conditions include:

  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn from activities they normally like for more than two weeks
  • Trying to harm, or kill themselves, or making plans to do so
  • Sudden overwhelming fear with no cause. This may be accompanied by a racing heart or fast breathing
  • Showing severe out-of-control behavior that may pose a risk to himself, herself, or others
  • Having extreme mood swings, or drastic changes in behavior and personality
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating in school and day-to-day activities

If your child models one or more of the above behaviors, consult with their pediatrician, school, or a mental health provider. Additionally, young children and adolescents may be at risk for mental health issues as a result of negative life changes, including the death of a family member or friend, divorce, bullying, or any traumatic life event.

What To Do

The most common causes of mental disorders are your genes and family history. That said, your child being diagnosed with a mental health condition isn’t avoidable, but there are several things you can do to intervene and make a positive difference.

  • Talk with your child’s pediatrician: Pediatricians can help identify and come up with healthy responses to life stressors and assess and manage patients with common behavioral and mental health problems. Additionally, pediatricians can refer you to a mental health specialist.
  • See a mental health specialist or therapist: Because some pediatricians will not make a diagnosis, seeing a mental health specialist may be necessary. Additionally, seeking therapy can help to develop coping skills and self-care activities. 
  • Work with the school counselor: School counselors are a great resource as they often recognize the need for mental health awareness and services and can provide instruction and even offer short-term counseling interventions

Children are brilliant and can pick up on their parents’ behaviors and emotional cues. Try keeping a positive outlook on everyday emotions and challenges when spending time with your child. 

More Ways To Talk To Your Child About Mental Health

Try relaying to your child that life is full of endless opportunities, experiences, and exciting times. To learn more on how to relay these messages, check out these resources:

There is never a wrong time to start the conversation surrounding mental health with your child. Wake Forest Pediatrics strives to improve patient care by strengthening the patient-doctor relationship, providing open communication, and working as a team for a comprehensive approach to medical care. This includes providing assistance for parents and children struggling with various mental health conditions. To talk to our team about a care plan for your child, call our Wake Forest office at 919-556-4779 or our Knightdale office at 919-266-5059 or make an appointment.

patient portal