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Children and Mental Health

Children’s brains develop well into their 20’s. Mental health plays a critical role in shaping a person’s social, emotional and cognitive development, all parts of a healthy brain.

Caring for a child’s mental health is just as important as caring for his or her physical health. Many parents are generally unaware of the fact that children’s emotions and behaviors can be signs that they are struggling with their mental health. In fact, some behaviors can be symptoms of diagnosable emotional, mental or behavioral health disorders that warrant intervention and treatment by a professional. The problem is that it can be difficult to know when behaviors are signs of concern and when they are simply typical phases or stages of development.

Just like physical health, mental health lies on a continuum.

When observing your child’s behaviors, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How is my child functioning at home, at school, or with friends
  • Is my child’s behavior impairing his or her ability to function in any one of the major areas of life?
  • Is my child functioning in a way that is typical for a child his or her age?
  • How frequent are the behaviors I am concerned about?
  • Do they happen daily, weekly, or on a regular basis? If you are not sure, consider keeping a log to track how often they occur.
  • How long does the behavior last? What is the duration of a particularly concerning episode? For instance, does an angry outburst last much longer than seems reasonable under the circumstances that triggered it?
  • How intense is my child’s behavior?
  • Is my child reacting in a way that is out of proportion in intensity to the situation that triggered the reaction?

Know the warning signs. Long-lasting and severe mood swings, excessive fears, and worries, extreme behavioral changes, disturbing physical changes, self-harm, or an inability to concentrate are common signs of an emotional disorder.

For additional information about “Children and Mental Health,” please click on this National Institutes of Mental Health link.