Mental Health Awareness and Children

By Donika Freeman, New Horizons Child Advocate

It’s a call no parent wants to get – another call from school saying you have to pick up your child for behavior issues. You may wonder: what is going on? Why are they behaving this way? How can you help?

Tantrums, mood swings, testing boundaries and being energetic or shy are all typical behaviors for children, but what does it mean when you notice these behaviors are happening a lot more frequently or at an inappropriate age? Is this just a phase or could it be something more?

This is why mental health awareness is important; it helps answer these questions and advocate for people experiencing mental illness. Knowing the symptoms, how to seek treatment, end stigmas, and educate others on how to become a support system can significantly reduce the impacts of mental illness.

These impacts can include suicide, risky and dangerous behavior, physical health impairments, and lack of positive social and emotional development, although the list goes on.

In the developing mind of a child or adolescent, it is very important to address any mental health concerns and provide early intervention before these negative emotions and behaviors grow. If left unaddressed, continued impacts can show themselves later in life in substance abuse, difficulty with daily functioning or trouble finishing school, keeping a job, and so on.

What can you do? Educate yourself, seek professional help, and talk to your children about their emotions in a safe environment.

Children may also come up with coping mechanisms on their own. Helping them come up with positive coping mechanisms can teach healthy ways to regulate their emotions.

Some examples of positive coping skills can include:

  • Breathing exercises – Watch Sesame Street “Belly Breathe” for an example (click here)
  • Create a space to calm down – Just like adults, children may just need a moment to cool down. Create a safe space that has items like a feelings chart, a journal, stress ball or playdough, calming music, and something that has a calming smell (lotion, oil diffuser, etc.), and maybe a picture of something that makes your child feel calm or happy.
  • Stretching/exercise – Most of us know that there is a mind-body connection. There are a ton of benefits to physical activity and helping build a healthy body is a good way to build a healthy mind. It may also help kids release any extra energy they may have.
  •  Art – If your child enjoys art, this may be a great way for them to express their feelings visually through artwork.
  • Humor! – They don’t say “laughter is the best medicine” for nothing! If your child is feeling sad, anxious, embarrassed, etc., lightening the mood with a funny joke or video can be a great way to cope with negative emotions.

These are just some examples of coping mechanisms but  individual tactics should be tailored to each child’s interest and what may work for them.

For more information about mental illness, how to talk to your kids about emotions, and additional coping mechanisms, please reach out to a professional in your area.

In Connecticut, anyone can call 2-1-1 to find out about local resources, including for children’s mental health.