Children’s Mental Health

When it comes to mental health, children are often not at the forefront of the conversation. There are many reasons this is true. For example, children have not yet mastered coping strategies, so when they are expressing how they feel, they can sometimes exaggerate and over-dramatize. To an extent, this is true, but does not mean that a child’s responses and behaviors should not be addressed with utmost thoughtfulness. As a parent, it is important to know what certain behaviors could be indicating and the impact on children whose mental health has not been managed well.

Common mental health disorders include anxiety, depression, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

  • Anxiety: It is typical for all children to have fears. We are there to show them the realities in the world of what is actually harmful and what is not.  When a child is unable to cope with fears and worries, they could be experiencing anxiety.
    • Signs: Unrealistic fear of certain objects, animals, or situations, such as going to the doctor or going into social environments.
  • Depression: Of course, all children will experience emotional highs and emotional lows. In the case when a child shows consistency in being uninterested in activities that should make them excited and happy, it could indicate signs of depression. If you have concerns, you should always contact your health care provider.
    • Signs: Not being interested in activities that should be fun for a child, constantly feeling sluggish, and expressing feelings of insecurity.
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children who are not able to stay on task for a longer period of time could suffer from ADHD and require additional support. It is important to remember that a child can be extremely intelligent, but unable to focus long enough to receive given information. ADHD can have a substantial impact on a child’s ability to learn and develop cognitively. If it is not managed, ADHD could impact emotional development as well, since children may feel incapable. (See The Scoop on ADHD)
    • Signs: Does not follow instructions on given tasks or school assignments, unable to give focused attention, forgetful, or resistant towards activities that require cognitive effort for a longer period of time.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is widely recognized as the need for organization and cleanliness; however, this is    not completely accurate. OCD refers to having unwanted thoughts (i.e. obsessions) that lead to the need to do something repeatedly or a certain way (i.e. compulsions). In learning more about OCD, you may realize that there is more to a child’s need to put on a jacket a certain way or wash their hands over and over again.
    • Signs: Repeated unwanted thoughts, repetition of certain words or thoughts, feeling the urge to constantly repeat an action such as hand-washing or arranging items in a certain order.

Remember that all children are unique and will have a personality that is contoured specifically to them. However, when certain behaviors reach beyond the boundaries of the norm, it is always a good idea to at least get a second opinion from your child’s pediatrician. Prevention is a key component to preserving mental health, which is vital to overall wellness. For more information on children’s mental health, please view the following ACPeds resources:

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