Encouraging mental wellness in children
5/4/2017 by Hannah Mulholland, LICSW
Helping a child develop resiliency and mental wellness is one of the most difficult and important tasks for parents or guardians. Unfortunately, mental health concerns are not uncommon in children and adolescents. Approximately one in five children will suffer from a serious mental health condition in their childhood or adolescence. Some of the most common mental health concerns include depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behavioral issues.
Parenting children who are struggling with these symptoms is challenging, and is usually a dance to find balance between supporting and encouraging your child and pushing them to face difficult situations.
Children and adolescents often have intense or confusing emotions they do not know how to express, so parents may be left wondering if they should be concerned about their child. There are several signs to watch for in children and adolescents that may indicate they are struggling and need additional support. These include:
- Sudden changes to sleep or appetite
- Persistent low energy
- Loss of focus/concentration
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
- Excessive and disproportionate worry
- Difficulties separating from caregivers
If you are concerned for your child's mental wellness or have noticed these symptoms for more than a few days, please talk to your child's medical provider.
Parents often wonder how they can promote mental wellness in their children. Building resiliency in children means increasing their ability to respond positively and adapt when faced with adversity, tragedy, challenges or stressors.
Strategies for building resiliency and mental wellness in children and adolescents include:
- Helping children build a social support network of people - young and old - who are supportive and non-judgmental.
- Supporting the expression of all emotions, both positive and negative. This means teaching children that experiencing any emotion is safe and normal.
- Empowering children to make their own choices and giving them appropriate responsibilities for their developmental age.
- Setting an example for the behaviors you want your children to demonstrate.
- Promoting realistic goal setting based on your child's own interests and aspirations.
- Modeling and encouraging how to manage mistakes.
- Validating emotions and allowing children to practice self-soothing.
- Encouraging facing fears and trying new things.
- Praising effort, not performance.
- Promoting exercise, good sleep and a balanced diet.
Hannah Mulholland, LICSW, is a clinical social worker serving children and adolescents in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Integrated Behavioral Medicine (IBH).