How can I best help my child?
The moment a child enters the world, it’s almost as if all the concerns, uncertainties, and worries of the parent are displaced. The child becomes a main source of worry and, let’s be honest, STRESS!
Every parent, knowingly or unknowingly, wants a happy, healthy, and thriving child. They want their child to possess and experience things unavailable to them growing up; they want him to excel in school and be socially accepted by peers; and they want him to develop into a successful adult.
What happens when this isn’t the case? What happens when this perfect dream is shattered by unplanned financial stresses, health issues, developmental delays, or, for sake of this article, mental health concerns?
If you’re just now joining, please check out the previous two posts, Mental Illness in Children Part 1: Is it Really an “Invisible Epidemic”? and Mental Illness in Children: Part 2 – What Does IT Look Like? for some background information into this series.
Where to Start
If you’ve secretly had concerns regarding your child’s mental health OR if the previous posts have led to only more questions, then you’re in the right spot. I’ve found this to be a difficult time for most parents. If you’re a parent at this point, you’re trying to wrap your head around the fact that your child is possibly struggling with a mental health issue AND trying to figure out the next best step.
The information below will hopefully shine some light on the possibilities as well as options regarding help for your child.
Think about the following quote: “We take our kids for physicals, vaccinations, dental exams, and eye exams. When do we think to take our son or daughter for a mental health check up?” – Unknown.
Why is it that parents are more able to talk about flu symptoms than defiance and failing grades? Why is it that parents would rather talk about broken bones than explosive behaviors at home? Why is it easier for parents to talk about the need for braces rather than the need for psychotropic medication?
ONE WORD…. STIGMA!
We need to work together to break the stigma related to mental health and START HAVING THESE CONVERSATIONS. Start having conversations about your child’s behaviors; conversations on how you have no clue what to do and; conversations regarding the need for help trying to figure things out!
Mental health is the purple elephant in the room; no on wants to acknowledge it; no one wants to accept it, and; for sure, no one wants to talk about it.
These conversations are the first steps in getting your child the help he needs.
If your child is school-aged, consult with his teacher and school personnel. Ask teachers of any noticeable changes or regression in behavior; ask about grades, attitudes, and social behaviors and; ask about accommodations/ interventions available through the school.
Ask… Ask… Ask!
Any concerns regarding your child’s mental health should be discussed openly with your pediatrician; any changes in behavior, regardless of how irrelevant they may seem to you. Report changes in appetite or sleep patterns, changes in school performance, difficulty maintaining attention, hyperactivity, fatigue, isolation, extreme emotions, etc.
THIS LIST GOES ON AND ON! BEST METHOD… If it’s a recent change in behavior OR if the behavior is impacting your child’s life, then it should be discussed!
Talking to your pediatrician is a great step. Your child’s pediatrician will be able to provide insight into your child’s behavior, including underlying reasons, possible diagnoses, and treatment options. Some primary care physicians may choose to diagnosis and treat; others may refer you to a specialist in the field (e.g. psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health professional, etc.) for further testing and treatment. Treatment recommendations and/or options will be based on diagnosis and identified behavioral concerns.
What to Expect in Treatment
The article, “Mental Illness in Children: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments”, posted by Healthy Place identifies the following as mental health treatment options for children:
- Play therapy (using play to help identify and communicate feelings)
- Art therapy (using different forms of art as a means of self-expression)
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (working to change faulty thought processes)
- Behavior modification programs (using reward systems to increase desirable behaviors)
- Bibliotherapy (using books as a means of therapy)
- Teaching, recognizing, and management of different feelings
- Teaching and practicing social skills (sharing, taking turns, etc.)
- Parenting classes
- Family counseling
The treatment path designed for your child will be specific to his needs; therefore, some of the above treatment options may not apply while others not listed will. Be open to ideas and treatment options suggested by others and DO YOUR RESEARCH to develop your own opinion regarding the matter.
For most, this is an unknown world. If you’ve never dealt with or experienced mental health issues then you’re completely out of your realm. It’s scary and for good reason… IT’S YOUR CHILD!
There are lots of uncertainties and lots of questions usually followed by even more uncertainties and more difficult questions. Just remember that you are not alone. Reach out to others; do not try to take this on by yourself or pretend as if it will just go away.
Consult with your child’s teacher, pediatrician, or your best friend to get advice. Start doing research of your own to get a better understanding of your child’s diagnosis, treatment options, and specialists in your area.
Remember you’re your child’s first advocate. Advocate for him in ways that will ensure he is receiving the assistance to possess and experience things unavailable to you growing up; to excel in school and be socially accepted by his peers; and to develop into a successful and prospering adult.
*Click here to read the entire article, “Mental Illness in Children: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments” posted by Healthy Place.