When becoming a parent there is nothing more important than the health and happiness of your child and ensuring all of their needs are met. However, it is not uncommon for the topic of mental health to go unaddressed by many parents sometimes until late adolescence. This may be due to the connotation that mental health has, of being an adult topic about adult struggles like work stress or relationship issues. But, creating healthy habits for your children’s mental health is as important as teaching them to brush their teeth or tie their shoes. According to the World Health Organization “Worldwide, 10% of children and adolescents experience a mental disorder, but the majority of them do not seek help or receive care”. This can cause significant dysfunction when they reach adulthood, and seriously hinder their development along the way. It is important to keep in mind though, that even children without mental disorders may experience mental health issues, as mental health exists on a continuum.

Additionally, there is a tremendous amount of growth occurring from the ages of 1-12, right before children reach puberty which is a whole other stage of development. This means though that the definition of mental health in children shifts as their emotional and cognitive milestones shift. For example good mental health markers in a toddler will differ to those of a 1st grader. A big influence on children’s mental health is their environment and some things that can disrupt development are “exposure to violence, the mental illness of a parent or other caregiver, bullying and poverty” according to the World Health Organization.

While it is completely normal for children to worry or be afraid of certain things, when these feelings begin to stunt or disrupt their ability to socialize with their peers or handle their own emotions it may be a sign something deeper is going on. Below are some of the most common mental disorders found amongst children ages 1-12, and some of the symptoms to look out for according to the CDC.

ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Daydream a lot
  • Forget or lose things a lot
  • Squirm or fidget
  • Talk too much
  • Make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks
  • Have a hard time resisting temptation
  • Have trouble taking turns
  • Have difficulty getting along with others
  • Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
  • Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
  • Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)

  • Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
  • Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Often being angry or losing one’s temper
  • Often arguing with adults or refusing to comply with adults’ rules or requests
  • Often resentful or spiteful
  • Deliberately annoying others or becoming annoyed with others
  • Often blaming other people for one’s own mistakes or misbehavior
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Having unwanted thoughts, impulses, or images that occur over and over and which cause anxiety or distress.
  • Having to think about or say something over and over (for example, counting, or repeating words over and over silently or out loud)
  • Having to do something over and over (for example, handwashing, placing things in a specific order, or checking the same things over and over, like whether a door is locked)
  • Having to do something over and over according to certain rules that must be followed exactly in order to make an obsession go away.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Reliving the event over and over in thought or in play
  • Nightmares and sleep problems
  • Becoming very upset when something causes memories of the event
  • Lack of positive emotions
  • Intense ongoing fear or sadness
  • Irritability and angry outbursts
  • Constantly looking for possible threats, being easily startled
  • Acting helpless, hopeless or withdrawn
  • Denying that the event happened or feeling numb
  • Avoiding places or people associated with the event

While treating disorders in children can be a bit difficult because of the natural fluctuations in temperament as they grow, there are ways to manage certain disorders. Play therapy, Art Therapy and Talk therapy are all effective treatments for children who need professional support. It is important to note though, that the conversation about mental health begins at home. Creating a safe and intentional space for your child to express their emotions, fears and anxieties is essential, because often children don’t learn the language needed to express themselves until much later in life. By providing them with tools on how to identify their emotions, self-soothe and communicate their thoughts can help to make your child more resilient in the face of life stress as well trauma.

(This article was contributed by Rollins Clinical Psychology student, Shannon Caicedo)


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