Promoting Your Child's Mental Health

As parents you are responsible for your children's physical safety and emotional well-being. There is no one right way to raise a child. Parenting styles vary, but all caregivers should agree on expectations for your child. The following suggestions are not meant to be complete. Many good books are available in libraries or at bookstores on developmental stages, constructive problem-solving, discipline styles, and other parenting skills. 

Do your best to provide a safe home and community for your child, as well as nutritious meals, regular health check-ups, immunizations, and exercise. Be aware of stages in child development so you don't expect too much or too little from your child.

Encourage your child to express his or her feelings; respect those feelings. Let your child know that everyone experiences pain, fear, anger, and anxiety. Try to learn the sources of these feelings. Help your child express anger positively without resorting to violence. 

Promote mutual respect and trust. Keep your voice level down, even when you don't agree. Keep communication channels open. Listen to your child. Use words and examples your child can understand. Encourage questions. Provide comfort and assurance. Be honest. Focus on the positives. Express your willingness to talk about any subject. 

Look at your own problem-solving and coping skills. Are you setting a good example? Seek help if you are overwhelmed by your child's feelings or behaviors or if you are unable to control your own frustration or anger. 

Encourage your child's talents and accept limitations. Set goals based on the child's abilities and interests, not someone else's expectations. Celebrate accomplishments. Don't compare your child's abilities to those of other children, appreciate the uniqueness of your child. Spend time regularly with your child. 

Foster your child's independence and self worth. Help your child deal with life's ups and downs. Show confidence in your child's ability to handle problems and tackle new experiences. 

Discipline constructively, fairly, and consistently. Discipline is a form of teaching, not physical punishment. All children and families are different, learn what is effective for your child. Show approval for positive behaviors. Help your child learn from his or her mistakes. 

Love unconditionally. Teach the value of apologies, cooperation, patience, forgiveness, and consideration for others. Do not expect to be perfect, parenting is a difficult job. 

Don't give up. It is important that you keep looking until you find the right services for you child. Some children and families need counseling or family supports. Others may need medical care, residential care, day treatment, education services, legal assistance, rights protection, transportation, or case management. Some families don't seek help because they are afraid of what others may say or think. Other barriers also may get in the way, such as the cost of care, limited insurance benefits, or no health insurance. While these may be problems for your family, treatment is necessary. There are numerous options available and if I can't help, I can direct you to someone who can!


Warning Signs - When to Seek Help

A variety of signs may point to a possible mental health problem in a child or teenager. Some of them are listed below. Pay attention if your child, or a child you know, has these symptoms.

Is troubled by feeling:

  • Sad and hopeless without good reason, and the feelings don't go away.
  • Very angry most of the time, cries a lot, or overreacts to things.
  • Worthless or guilty a lot.
  • Anxious or worried a lot more than other young people.
  • Grief for a prolonged time after a loss or death.
  • Extremely fearful, has unexplained fears or more fears than most children.
  • Constantly concerned about physical problems or appearance.
  • Frightened that his or her mind is controlled or is out of control.

Experiences big changes, for example:

  • Does much worse in school.
  • Loses interest in things usually enjoyed.
  • Has unexplained changes in sleeping or eating habits.
  • Avoids friends or family and wants to be alone all the time.
  • Daydreams too much and can't get things done.
  • Feels life is too hard to handle or talks about suicide.
  • Hears voices that cannot be explained.

Is limited by:

  • Poor concentration, can't make decisions.
  • Inability to sit still or focus attention.
  • Worry about being harmed, hurting others, or about doing something "bad."
  • The need to wash, clean things, or perform certain routines dozens of times a day.
  • Thoughts that race almost too fast to follow.     
  • Persistent nightmares.

Behaves in ways that cause problems, for example:

  • Uses alcohol or drugs.
  • Eats large amounts of food and then forces vomiting, abuses laxatives, or takes enemas to avoid weight gain.
  • Continues to diet or exercise obsessively although bone-thin.
  • Often hurts other people, destroys property, or breaks the law.
  • Does things that can be life threatening.

You don't need to wait for a problem to develop, counseling can be proactive as well. Anything that you find stressful is also going to be stressful for your child. Counseling can often prevent problems before they occur. While children benefit from receiving counseling after experiencing a traumatic event, they also benefit from counseling before, during, and after major life changes such as family relocations, school changes, a friend moving away, separation or divorce, or loss of a pet.