Mental Health Advice for Parents

For parents and caregivers, witnessing a child or dependent struggling with mental health issues can be debilitating. Understanding the warning signs and what you can do to help will allow you to care for your child properly during these times.

Regardless of the age of your children, certain life events may trigger mental health issues. If you have noticed a sudden change in the behavior of your child following a traumatic event, you may want to begin the process of seeking mental health help for your child.

You can choose to speak with a primary care physician or you can search for mental health professionals in your area to assist you in providing the best care possible to your child or dependent. Talking to your child about what he or she is feeling can be the first step toward understanding what level of care is necessary to treat the issue.

Identifying Signs of Mental Health Issues

If you are worried about the mental health status of your child or dependent, there are common warning signs you can look for to determine if he or she is having trouble. Your child may display one or two symptoms or a combination of many symptoms during times when he or she is struggling. The primary warning signs you should be mindful of include:

  • Feelings of sadness for two weeks or more.
  • Feeling withdrawn for two weeks or more.
  • Trying to harm or kill himself or herself or discussing plans to do so.
  • Getting into fights with others or wanting to hurt others.
  • Experiencing heightened levels of fear.
  • Displaying extreme behavior.
  • Changes in eating habits, such as eating less, making him or herself throw up or taking laxatives.
  • Increased sense of worry.
  • Difficulty controlling behavior.
  • Drug or alcohol usage.
  • Extreme mood swings.
  • Sudden changes in personality.

When your child is displaying these symptoms, you should speak with him or her immediately to get a better idea of what is causing these changes. Speaking with the primary care physician for your child may also be beneficial during this stage, as he or she may have suggestions on how to handle this delicate matter with your child.

Potential Causes of Mental Health Issues in Children

Your child or dependent could be experiencing mental health issues for a variety of reasons, many of which can be caused by major life events. Children are not as well equipped as adults to process emotions and may develop extreme behavioral reactions to negative events in their lives. If your child or dependent has experienced any of the following, it may explain his or her change:

  • The death of a loved one.
  • Teasing or bullying at school.
  • Difficulty with classmates.
  • A new or sudden change, like switching schools or moving to a new town.
  • A traumatic life event, such as living through a house fire or natural disaster.

If you and your husband or wife have chosen to separate or divorce, you child may develop a strong emotional reaction to this circumstance as well. If you have noticed warning signs in your child following one of the life events mentioned above, you may want to spend time discussing the matter with your child directly to gain a better understanding of how he or she feels. If you believe your child still needs help to adjust, consider consulting with a mental health professional.

How to Speak with Your Children About Their Mental Health

There are a few questions you can ask to make the conversation run more smoothly and to ensure you are properly addressing what is going on with your child. To start, ask your child to tell you how he or she is feeling or to describe what has been happening in his or her life. Your child may tell you he or she is being bullied at school and that this interaction causes feelings of extreme sadness or makes him or her want to harm himself or herself. Once your child or dependent speaks with you about the problem and how he or she is feeling, you will be able to devise a plan to remedy the situation.

Your child should know it is okay to speak with you about what is going on and should feel confident in your ability to help him or her through these issues. You should maintain a calm tone when you are talking to your child and allow him or her time to speak about the feelings he or she is experiencing. While you want to speak with your child to offer helpful tips and advice, one of the most important things you can do in these moments is to simply listen and let him or her speak about what is wrong.

It is important to bring up mental health problems at a time when your child feels safe and is willing to speak about what he or she is experiencing. If your child becomes confused or upset at a specific point in the conversation, slow down for a few minutes to allow time for your child to process his or her emotions. While you should ask questions to prompt conversation, it is beneficial to allow your child to lead the discussion to determine the root cause of the issues at hand.

How to Find Mental Health Help for Your Child or Dependent

Once you have spoken to your child or dependent about potential mental health issues he or she may be dealing with, you can start the process of finding help for your child to address these problems. The first step in the process is to contact a healthcare professional to find the best solution for the symptoms and feelings your child is experiencing. You can speak with a primary care physician, a mental health professional or a school counselor to find the best mental health resources in your area. Your child may need to consult with a mental health professional regularly or may need to be placed on medication, depending upon the severity of his or her issues. The most important thing you can do through this process is remain honest and open with your child and allow him or her time to speak with you about his or her feelings when it is necessary to do so.

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