Mental Health Awareness in Children
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month — a population we don’t want to overlook is children.
RAPID CITY, S.D. — Since young kids aren’t always able to verbalize what they feel, parents can pick up on behaviors or physical symptoms that could indicate trouble. If your child is experiencing anxiety or sadness, they may say their tummy hurts or they have a headache. Pay attention to long term situations, that last a week or longer. For older children it may be a something out of character for them — a change in sleeping or eating behaviors, friends they are hanging out with or academic performance.
Lynell Rice Brinkworth, a licensed marriage & family therapist at Spirals Counseling, LLC says, “Looking at those major aspects of their life, if you’re seeing the big changes that’s usually time you kind of want to check in with them.”
Lynell says to be involved in your child’s life and pay attention to their behaviors. Talk to them about what might be the problem — go do something fun and non-confrontational to start a conversation. You can also talk to your child’s teacher, school counselor, even pediatrician about what you have noticed. A counselor may be able to give them an outlet to express their feelings and teach them coping skills on how to manage what they are going through.
“It could be a biological and genetic component here that has nothing to do with them having all of their basic needs met, it’s just a part of their makeup and those symptoms are starting to show,” says Lynell.
Unfortunately, there is a significant increase of suicidal behaviors in the younger population. The pressures of today’s society, like social media, bullying, peer pressure, social pressure and a high stress life, all play a part. Lynell says to also regulate and manage technology use, give boundaries at an early age so your child can learn good habits. She recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics for usage guidelines. Then increase their unstructured or down time at home — when they can just relax.
Lynell says, “Now the pressures that families are dealing with in the high-level stress, I think kind of creating a family environment that limits technology is a part of our day-to-day world and it will be a part of children’s future from here on out and so paying attention to how you’re going to regulate that and that’s really important. Giving them life experiences outside of technology because some of the pressure kids experience truly are when they’re comparing themselves on social media to other teenagers and dealing with that fear of missing out and all that stuff that’s going on. And that isn’t always reality, but it can feel very real to them.”
Lastly, each week have a family night to create a sense of structure and family togetherness.
Lynell also says to check in with your child for feedback on what makes them happy and make sure too many activities are not a result of your own agenda.