As adults, we often experience some sort of stress, anxiety, and worry on a daily basis. We try to practice self-care in order to relieve those feelings, but how often do we check in on our children’s mental health? They experience these same feelings when dealing with social interactions, school assignments, and extracurricular activities, and may not know how to communicate their feelings and difficult experiences.
Studies have shown that depression, anxiety, and behavior issues are on the rise in children. Between 2016 and 2020 anxiety diagnosis in children (aged 3-17) increased by 29% and depression by 27%. As parents, care givers, and educators, it is important that we pay attention to our children and check in on their mental health regularly. This can be difficult because it is normal for children to go through changes as they develop.
Warning signs something may be wrong:
Mood Swings. Mood swings are normal in children, especially in the adolescent years, however, drastic and extreme mood swings can be a warning that there may be more going on.
Lack of Interest in Activities. If your child is isolating themselves, spending less time with friends, and are no longer interested in doing activities they used to love, this may be a sign that there is deeper issue.
Sudden Fear of New Things: Though new situations can be fearful to children, if your child suddenly becomes fearful of things they are used to doing, such as going to the store, they could be experiencing anxiety.
Increased Fighting with Loved Ones. If your child is becoming more combative and angry, this can be an early warning sign of mental distress. Children don’t always know how to express themselves, so sometimes this comes out in the form of anger and those close to the child can often be the target.
All of these warning signs can be completely normal to the development of your child as they learn to navigate life and deal with stress and conflicts. That is why it is important to do check-ins with your child’s mental health in order to notice changes that may be something more.
Helpful ways to check in on your child:
Ask them questions. According to Bridget DeFiccio, Acenda Senior Vice President of Integrated Health, "it's helpful to ask 'open ended' questions. Open ended questions will elicit more conversation rather than a one word answer. For example: how are you feeling? may get a one word answer such as 'fine', or 'good'. But asking 'tell me what you think about _____ (fill in the blank) will lead to more conversation and allow you to ask follow up questions if necessary. Also, it's important to just listen then to jump in to make your own comments. The more you listen, the more your child will likely talk."
Be straightforward when communicating: This is not always easy, but it is important to show them you are concerned. Being calm and using appropriate language is important to having an open discussion and be prepared to listen more than you talk.
Listen and reassure them. Make sure your child is comfortable and pay attention to their feelings. Using examples can help them express their feelings more effectively and use resources on how to talk to your child about their mental health.
Children struggling with mental health often go untreated, simply because parents don’t know where to start. If your child is struggling with their mental health, Acenda has many programs and counseling services that can help.