It's easy to know when your child has a fever. A child's mental health problem may be harder to identify, but you can learn to recognize the symptoms. Sudden changes in your child's behavior can tip you off to a problem.
Signs that your child may need help
- Changes in school performance
- Poor grades despite strong efforts
- Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
- Sadness that doesn't go away
- Persistent nightmares
- Persistent disobedience or aggression
- Hurting or destroying things
- Frequent temper tantrums
OLDER CHILDREN OR TEENS:
- Substance abuse
- Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
- Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
- Excessive complaints of physical ailments
- Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism
- Intense fear of weight gain
- Exercising too much
- Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
- Frequent outbursts of anger that seems to come from nowhere
- Explosive behavior
Can symptoms be caused by stressful events?
Yes, events like a death in the family, illness in a parent, the stress of family financial problems or divorce can affect every member of a family, even the youngest child. It's normal for stress to cause a child to be upset. Remember this if you see mental, emotional, or behavioral symptoms in your child. Take note if he or she gets better with time. If more than a month goes by, professional help may be needed.
Some common mental health problems in children are:
WHO TO DISCUSS YOUR CONCERNS WITH
You could discuss your concerns with:
- People whose parenting you respect
- Your child's teachers and school counselors
- Your minister or rabbi
- Your child's doctor or health care provider
- A mental health professional
Ask questions and learn everything you can about the behavior or symptoms that worry you. Keep in mind that every child is different. Even normal development, such as when children develop language, motor, and social skills, varies from child to child. Ask if your child needs further evaluation by a specialist with experience in child behavioral problems. Specialists may include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, and behavioral therapists. Educators may also help evaluate your child.
If you take your child to a specialist, ask, "Do you have experience treating the problems I see in my child?" Don't be afraid to interview more than one specialist to find the right fit. Continue to learn everything you can about the problem or diagnosis. The more you learn, the better you can make decisions that feel right for you, your child, and your family.
* Sources: Mental Health America; U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Resources, National Institute of Mental Health