In the U.S., 1 in 5 children experiences a significant mental health challenge. Even more disturbing is the fact fewer than 20 percent ever receive proper treatment. Early intervention is a key component in helping children to lead happier healthier lives.
“After living through a difficult situation, you don’t necessarily ‘get over’ what happened, but you learn how to cope,” said Anna Cox, LPC, CMHT, NCC, M.Ed., Program Supervisor for Canopy Children’s Solutions. “Teaching coping skills is one of the biggest elements we use in therapy.”
Being a proactive parent means allowing your child to experience life’s challenges, but being able to recognize when he or she may need help. Being proactive means playing an active role in a child’s life and being aware of the warning signs pointing to child’s struggles. Here are a few:
- Mood changes. Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks, or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.
- Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason, or worries and fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
- Behavior changes. Drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to badly hurt others are also warning signs.
- Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or inability to sit still for any length of time, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
- Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
- Physical symptoms. Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition may develop chronic headaches and stomachaches rather than sadness or anxiety.
- Physical harm. Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-injury, also called self-harm. This is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. Children with a mental health condition also may develop suicidal thoughts or actually attempt suicide.
- Substance abuse. Some kids use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.
“Having periods of sadness, anxiety, or anger are normal,” said Cox. “When a difficult situation or intense emotions affects a child’s ability to function normally, that’s when you should be concerned. Seeking help from a professional will help them explore how they feel and why.”
Half of all children who develop mental health disorders exhibit symptoms by the age of 14. The earlier parents seek help for their children, the better chances of a positive outcome.
Working with a child therapist or counselor helps a child develop positive coping skills and gain a better understanding of their thoughts or feelings. Getting help early, even if it is just connecting the child with someone to talk to, is the best way to proactively help that child build strong mental health and overcome the many challenges they face.
Contributed by Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions
This article was originally published in Parents & Kids Northeast magazine as part of the April/May 2018 issue. For more from Parents & Kids visit www.parentsandkids.com.