Mind Matters: Understanding your child’s mental health

Understanding your child's mental health
Published: May. 5, 2023 at 9:14 AM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - Mental health affects how children think, feel and act.

ADHD, anxiety, behavioral problems and depression are among the most commonly diagnosed disorders in children. According to the CDC, one in six children age two to eight have been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder.

Director for the Institute for Childhood Resilience, Laura Baxter, sat down with KSLA on Thursday, April 4 to discuss how to notice signs your child may need help.

“We learned that there are more than 40 mental health and physical health conditions. Disease and disabilities that are related to adverse childhood experiences, when children have too much stress they may develop mental health problems. It can also impact things like your cardiovascular health. Some of the leading causes of death surprisingly, that includes cancer, high blood pressure, COPD, kidney disease and so on,” said Baxter.

You can normalize discussions about emotions by giving your child a “feelings vocabulary” and by using emotional words in everyday conversations. While every mental illness is different, Baxter says there are common signs to help determine if your child may be suffering.

“Look at things like sleep and appetite and interest in the things that normally a child would do for fun. If those things for change for instance, if they are sleeping more or less than normal, or their sleep is disrupted, if their appetite decreases or increases dramatically, those can be signs that there is distress of something going on that they may not know how to articulate.”

Baxter says it’s also important to be aware that we aren’t born with empath, but it’s something that we learn and develop through interactions with others. Parents are empathy coached for their children.

“Parents need to be available to soothe their child, not just notice that something is going on. Comfort them and offer a hug, or some words, and reassurance or reminder that they are there to help.”

After becoming aware of the issue, parents should implement immediate steps to combat the problem and see if incorporating fun helps relieve the child.

“Fun is the nutrition of our emotional wellbeing. It gives us a break from thinking about hard problems, it reminds us that life is worth living. It creates moments of joy and we all need that at all ages, but this is something that children innately know how to do when given opportunities. I think that is really important and sometimes overlooked part of our emotional health at all ages.”

Baxter says your child’s pediatrician is the recommended starting point if you realize your child’s mood hasn’t improved. They can provide you with assessments and helpful resources such as a therapist and counselors who can better equip you and your child.