Children's mental health is an issue that concerns many parents. It is normal to have questions. Being open to understanding the conditions related to mental health is part of the solution. Familiprix, in collaboration with Vie de Parents, gives you additional information to be aware of the issues surrounding children's mental health.
Cultivating adequate mental health
In order to promote good mental health, there are a number of ways that parents can act to create positive impacts in their children's lives. For example, establishing a healthy family climate, teaching good social practices, fostering good self-esteem, listening to the child's feelings and emotions, etc.
You can also teach your child to communicate what they are feeling. They will better understand their emotions. This is particularly useful in helping your child to know how to react in certain stressful situations. Several books or podcasts can be helpful if the topic of discussion does not come naturally.
The idea is to give your child reflexes for what to expect later, especially when it comes to stress management. With the right tools, they will be able to find solutions by themselves when faced with difficult situations. Show them how to regain their composure when they are upset. On a daily basis, teach them how to organize their time.
Remember that children copy what they see. Make sure you have balance in your life as an adult and remain positive. This is the time to establish healthy habits for the future.
Recognize the signs of a mental health problem
Parents have a front-row seat when it comes to observing unusual or problematic behaviour in their children. The primary living environment is the best place to see changes in this regard.
Learning to recognize the key signs of mental illness is a tremendous asset so that you can take action as early in your child's life as possible.
Pay particular attention to the following signs:
- Sleep problems (difficulty sleeping or always sleeping)
- A loss of appetite or, conversely, an excessive appetite
- A drop in energy
- Stomach aches
- A changing mood
- Extreme anger
- Constant worries
- Declining academic performance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Avoidance of family members and friends
- A loss of interest in valued activities
- Attempts to harm others or themselves
- A sudden fixation on weight
- Negligence in appearance
- Any other behaviour you find unusual
Demystifying mental disorders
Some mental illnesses appear very early in a child's life, while others are discovered a little later, in adolescence or adulthood. For example:
- Anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders usually appear during childhood and adolescence
- Schizophrenia, as well as psychotic disorders, although rarer, are normally present during adolescence and early adulthood
- Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD and many behavioural problems develop in early childhood
The diagnosis of mental disorders in children is based on two aspects: an interview between the child and the doctor or specialist, and the observation of the child's behaviour by the parents, teachers and other people involved. It is, therefore, no small task to detect a mental illness in a child. However, there are a few aspects of the major mental disorders that may alert you to them.
Attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity
ADD/ADHD is a condition that involves an imbalance in the brain and usually affects attention, alertness, motivation and memory. It is characterized by periods of inattention and agitation.
Anxiety disorders cause intense feelings of fear, worry and apprehension that interfere significantly with the child's daily life.
Depression can cause feelings of grief and sadness, and often irritability in the child or teenager. It also leads to a loss of interest in activities normally enjoyed. The distress comes on the sly and is not to be taken lightly.
Eating disorders reveal deviant eating-related behaviours, such as a change in eating habits or ways to prevent food intake.
Autism spectrum disorders
Autism spectrum disorders include autism and Asperger's syndrome. They cause problems with social relationships, language and communication, and actions that are limited or repetitive in nature.
Rest assured, some behaviours are only temporary and do not necessarily indicate a mental health problem. However, if the symptoms intensify or persist, it is advisable to investigate by consulting a physician or a mental health specialist.
Finally, there are ways to be vigilant and caring with your children, but don't become overly obsessed. Just let them know that you are available to listen and help them if they feel the need. By opening the door to communication, you will be more alert to a change in mood or attitude.
Above all, listen to yourself and follow your instincts!