Children’s Mental Health: When To Worry, How To Take Action

sad boy arms folded

Approximately one in five children experience a diagnosable mental health condition in their lives.

I once worked with a young man (whom I will refer to here as James) who was in his early 20s and had been plagued by difficulties at both work and his personal life. About two years prior to our first meeting, he left school due to his inability to keep up with the schoolwork and the stress that it caused him. James told me he always felt as if he were playing “catch up.”

Throughout our time together in therapy James came to recognize he had been living with untreated ADHD. He spent years internalizing negative messages from his teachers and family members about his behavior and difficulty concentrating. They labeled him as “bad,” and he believed it.

Early intervention would have afforded him the opportunity to excel in school and in his career. It would have also done wonders for his self-esteem.

Importance of Early Intervention

For parents it can be difficult to figure out when their child might need help. Cultural stigma and a lack of knowledge around mental health issues place barriers in the path of mental wellness.

Some parents aren’t sure their children need psychological support. Others may experience barriers, including financial ones, to accessing appropriate care. Sometimes they don’t consider therapy a viable option because they may not realize how helpful child therapists can be in setting their children up for better and brighter futures.

As a parent you may spend months — or even years — trying to control or manage your child’s behaviors to no avail. Making the wise choice to take action and get help for your little one is the most caring and healing response you can offer.

Early intervention is the key to potentially preventing more serious consequences in the future, such as substance abuse problems, school truancy, and suicide. Intervention can also help foster a deeper, more communicative bond between a family.

It can be difficult to decipher whether your child may need support for behavioral or mental health issues. Children often have difficulty expressing their emotions. This is most often true for younger children.

If you are a parent or caregiver, one of the most common indicators that your child may be in trouble is problematic behavior. This may include behaviors observed at home or at school. Fortunately most teachers are also trained in screening for mental health and behavioral issues. They can be powerful allies in your search for appropriate interventions.

Indicators Your Child Needs Help

If you find it difficult to talk with your child about their feelings or you are not sure they are struggling, here are some indicators that your child’s behavior might require professional attention:

  • Your child displays frequent aggression toward people and/or animals
  • Your child frequently loses their temper
  • He or she destroys property
  • He or she blames others for their mistakes
  • He or she refuses to obey rules
  • He or she routinely skips school
  • Bed wetting (especially alarming in post-potty-age children)
  • Changes in your child’s sleep or appetite
  • Your child routinely stays out late past curfew
  • He or she has stolen property
  • Your child has ongoing difficulty in social situations, maintaining work or staying in school

If you observe these behaviors in your child, do not be afraid to ask for help. If you, as a parent, would like more insight into your child’s behavior you can take the Parent Screen via Mental Health America. It will help you identify potential areas of attention for your child’s mental health.

In addition, teachers, behavioral aides, and therapists who specialize in working with children are available to support both you and your family in dealing with the practical and emotional consequences of having a child who struggles with mental health issues. They will work with your child to help them embrace and develop age-appropriate behavior and help them understand the impact their behavior has on others.

Published by

Jor-El Caraballo

Talkspace Therapist