Caring for Kids’ Mental Health
Even before the pandemic, children were experiencing historic levels of depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges. But since COVID-19 emerged, kids have faced even more mental health crises.
As U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy put in his recent advisory Protecting Youth Mental Health, “The challenges today’s generation of young people face are unprecedented and uniquely hard to navigate. And the effect these challenges have had on their mental health is devastating.”
Facing such realities, parents are looking for – and finding – ways to help. Following are some of the approaches experts suggest.
- Be a model. As is true with a child’s physical health, a child’s mental health can be shaped by example. Care for your own mental health, and your child will benefit as well.
- Make and encourage connections. Strong, positive relationships – especially with adults, but also with peers – build up a child’s resilience and help them thrive when faced with difficulties.
- Provide stability. Chaos, inconsistency and family turmoil harm children. Simple steps such as sticking to consistent dinner times and regular bedtimes and avoiding even mild arguments in front of the kids can do a lot to help kids stay healthy.
- Address substance abuse. Have frank conversations about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Studies show that the earlier kids start using drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to seriously abuse them, and the more likely they are to turn to them when times are tough.
- Watch for warning signs. Children’s moods and behaviors – especially teens’ – can be variable in all situations, but if you see sudden, dramatic changes in your child’s behavior, pay attention. Signs such as sleeplessness, withdraw from activities they enjoy and declining performance at school could be signs of bigger issues.
Of course, if you do see serious signs of distress, take action. Let your child know you are concerned, and then get professional help. If you’re not sure where to turn, talk to your primary caregiver, a school counselor or other professionals for referrals.
With proper attention and treatment, children’s mental health issues can be managed. Progress toward better mental health can begin with simply showing you care. That alone can send a positive message that could start a healing process.
For resources related to children’s mental health, go to www.onoursleeves.org.