to the episode
Childhood Mental Health
Childhood Mental Health
Mental health refers to the social, emotional, and behavioral well-being of children. A child’s mental health impacts the way that they feel about themselves, interact with people, and act throughout the day. Positive mental health helps children to feel better about themselves, manage their feelings, solve problems, and relate to others in healthy ways. Positive and nurturing relationships are important factors in strengthening children’s mental health.
Parenting that is sensitive, responsive, and consistent helps children develop positive mental health. It is not always possible to avoid hardship or stress, but there are tools and strategies that we can use to help children cope and develop strong mental health. By providing emotional support, helping the child manage stress, and reaching out to identify problems early, we can promote positive mental health and address any mental health issues that do arise.
The way young children think, feel, and act can be determined by both their physical and mental health. As a parent, there are several things that you can do to help promote positive early childhood mental health, such as modeling positive interactions and demonstrating ways to cope with frustration and conflicts. Other ways that you can promote positive early childhood mental health include:
- Nurturing your child’s mental health by helping your child to feel understood, loved and protected. Parents can do this by:
- Offering praise ad encouragement for your child’s efforts, accomplishments, and positive behavior.
- Setting reasonable limits on inappropriate behavior.
- Learning how to understand and manage their own anger and emotions. Children learn how to handle difficult feelings from what they see and hear parents do.
- Creating a stable and predictable environment through daily routines that help your child know what to expect and feel secure.
- Comforting your child when she feels scared, angry, or hurt. Your child needs your help when it comes to managing their feelings. Talk about feelings and show your child how to understand and manage her emotions.
- Spending time with your child, having fun, laughing, and enjoying time together. Creating a positive, happy environment helps your child feel valued.
- Have expectations that are age-appropriate for your child’s development and behavior.
- Learn how to manage and reduce your own stress through exercise, relaxation, support from family and friends, and other healthy lifestyle habits. Your emotional health and level of stress can affect the interactions and relationship with your child. You can always seek help from a mental health professional if your own level of stress feels overwhelming.
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s emotional or mental health, reach out to your pediatrician or a childhood mental health professional.
Many parents seek out advice when they are concerned about any of the following:
- Long, intense, and frequent tantrums
- Sleep problems
- Feeding problems
- Failure to thrive, which means that the child is not growing or developing at an expected rate
- Aggressive or defiant behaviors that happen frequently
- Impulsive and hyperactive behaviors that occur regularly
- Fussiness that occurs most of the time
- When a child is unusually quiet or very uninterested in others
- When a child seems sad most of the time
- When a child clings to the parent and almost never wants to leave the parent
- When a child seems fearful and afraid most of the time
- When a child takes a lot of unsafe risks, frequently putting herself in danger
If you and your pediatrician have concerns about your child’s emotional development or mental health, it can be a great idea to coordinate an evaluation by a childhood mental health professional.
A developmental assessment helps parents better understand their children’s strengths and areas of development that could benefit from additional support. An evaluation by a childhood mental health professional will be most accurate and beneficial if:
- parents stay with the child during the assessment
- the evaluator is familiar to the child, this ensures that the child will feel more comfortable and will behave more naturally than if it were a stranger who she was meeting for the first time.
- Observations of the parent and child interactions and child’s behavior take place in different environments, in addition to formal standardized assessments.
- Parents should be mindful that it is important to see how children and parents behave and interact in different environments such as the home, school, and the evaluator’s office. This will give the most accurate picture of the child and the family.
You can download our brochure, “Childhood Mental Health: Promoting Social & Emotional Well-Being” as well as other helpful resources on the Children’s Home Society of California’s website at www.chs-ca.org.