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Mental Health In Children

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COVID-19 has impacted virtually everything we do. Wearing masks, social distancing, and schooling at home are all new for most of us. These lifestyle changes aren’t easy — especially for children. We know COVID-19 doesn’t affect the physical health of children as much as it does with older people. However, the mental health of children can be a whole different story.

Studies show that close to 70 percent of parents are worried about the effects of this pandemic on their child’s mental health. And with good reason. There is no doubt that many children have been impacted mentally. It may be from missing their friends, changing the way they have school, the financial impact on their family, or any other reason. Our holiday celebrations may be different too. And the longer this new way of life continues, the harder it may be for kids.

Here, we will provide some helpful information for you, the parent, about what you can do and how you can help your kids during this situation. This will help your kids have greater peace of mind. And, in turn, give you more peace of mind too. Let’s start with what you should be looking for in your children.

Mental Health Signs To Look For

It is not always easy to recognize when a child has a mental health issue. Here are some signs that you can look for if you are concerned about your child.

  • Weight loss
  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Avoiding or missing school
  • Headaches or stomach aches
  • Change in eating habits
  • Changes in their mood, behavior, or personality
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in their performance in school
  • Hurting themselves or talking about it 
  • Extended sadness (for two weeks or more)
  • Avoiding social interaction
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and outbursts
Dad Helping Son Ride A Bike For Improved Mental Health

What Parents Can Do

As a parent, it is important to feel like we can help our children whenever they need it. In the midst of a pandemic, there are a lot of things that affect our children that we cannot change and have no control over. So instead of worrying about all of the issues beyond our control, focus on helping your family on controlling the things you can control. Here are some things you can do.

  • See a doctor. If you have any concerns that your child might be dealing with a mental health issue, don’t wait to check in with a doctor. It is also a good idea to get input from other people in their lives as well. Ask their teachers. Ask close friends. And of course, ask close relatives too. See if they have noticed the same things that have got you worried. The more information you can gather, the better.
  • Honesty. Have open and honest communication with your kids. Especially during this holiday season, about why and how your traditions may change. You should make an effort to look for creative solutions and even start some new traditions.
  • Make connections. A big part of mental health for anyone is their relationships and connections with other people. This can be difficult to have during the winter months in the middle of a pandemic. Find ways to help your kids connect with people rather than spending all of their time alone in their room. Today’s technology allows for many creative ways for kids to be with their friends when they are separated. Set up a watch party for the big game, their favorite movie or playing games over Zoom are just a couple of ideas. 
  • Be realistic. Children of different ages have different needs. You might get a day of fun and games with elementary school-age kids, but experts say you should not expect that with teenagers. Older kids are going to want a non-judgemental safe space. Avoid nagging them to hang out or get outside.
  • Outside time. You may have to bundle up and face the cold, but getting out of the house is important. It is ok if you keep it brief. Play in the snow, gather with friends and family or do whatever else you need to in order to get out and get some fresh air.
  • Screen time. What parent hasn’t gotten after their kids about spending too much time on their screens? But in our current situation, a little more screen time might not be a bad thing. Teens and tweens need to socialize and their screens may be the only option at times. It is important for them to have an outlet so if you’ve got screen time rules, you might consider relaxing them a little bit.
  • Schoolwork. If you are in a position to be helping them with schoolwork at home, don’t worry about making things perfect. Sometimes good enough is good enough. Work hard to give them validation and praise as they learn along with you.

Gratitude

One of the best things you can do is to focus on gratitude. Sure there is a disappointment for anything that the kids are missing out on this year. But it should help to keep them focused on what they have to be grateful for. Gratitude has been proven to be a mental health strengthener for both kids and adults. Here are a few ways to implement more gratitude in your family.

  • Focus on the good. At bedtime, spend a couple of minutes to discuss or write down something good that happened that you are grateful for that day. Research shows that gratitude helps with sleep quality and we could all use a good night of sleep!
  • Talk about it — often. Make it a habit to have conversations with your children about the people you are grateful for. A good reminder of our important relationships can help deal with anxious or sad thoughts.
  • Promote sincere expressions. When you create a habit of thankful expression, it increases self-esteem, mental health, and positive social behaviors.
  • Help others. Encourage your kids to be active in offering service to the community. This can come through church, youth groups, or on their own. Giving activities give them a sense of purpose and help them develop life-long skills.
  • Be a role model. If you want your kids to do it, it really helps if they see you do it too. When you are showing gratitude, doing service, etc. — it is much easier for your kids to follow suit.

Common Mental Health Issues In Children

  • Anxiety. Anxiety in children is persistent fear or worry that disrupts their ability to participate in playing, school, and other activities with their peers. It includes social anxiety, general anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
  • ADHD. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is indicated by a child who has difficulty with attention, impulsive behavior, and/or hyperactivity.
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is a neurological condition that typically appears before a child turns three. The signs are that they struggle with communication and interaction. There are different levels of severity.
  • Eating disorders. These involve a preoccupation with body type and disordered thinking about weight. It also includes poor and unsafe eating and dieting habits. They can lead to emotional and social dysfunction and life-threatening physical health issues.
  • Depression. Depression is when there are persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest. Especially when it disrupts their ability to function and interact normally. If they have bipolar disorder, there will be extreme mood swings and highs and lows.
  • PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder means prolonged emotional distress, anxiety, nightmares, and disruptive behavior. This is usually in a response to violence, abuse, or other traumatic events.
  • Schizophrenia. This disorder is with their perceptions and thoughts and causes them to lose touch with reality. Typically, it happens in the later teen years and their 20s.

Helping Your Child Cope

If your child does have a mental health issue that needs treatment, you are going to be vital to helping them through it. Here are some suggestions that can help you help them during this time.

  • Learn all you can about the illness.
  • Ask the mental health professional for advice about how to respond to your child and their behavior.
  • Find ways to spend quality, relaxing, and fun time with your child.
  • Take parent training courses.
  • Learn helpful stress management techniques to help you respond in the correct manner.
  • Family counseling.
  • Give your child praise for their strengths and abilities.
  • Work with your school and the resources available to help your child.

Just 4 Kids Urgent Care

We hope this will help you identify and understand whether your child has any mental health issues and how you can help if necessary. If you have any questions or need help, please feel free to give us a call or come and see us. We are here to help you take care of your child and have peace of mind in the process. Take a look at these additional resources for help with your kids.

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