Ask Dr. Nikki
Question: What are some signs that my young child's mental health is suffering, and what can I do to help?
Answer: Mental health concerns in children can be primarily seen in their behaviour. Watch your child’s behaviour, has it changed? If so, how? Some children may be less engaged with things they normally enjoyed, like colouring, playing with blocks or even video games. Perhaps, they seem more worried, more isolated, crying when you go out of sight, changes in eating habits or getting angry, throwing things, hitting you or their siblings, you might notice they don’t focus as well or are having trouble remembering things. If you are noticing a change in your child’s behaviour that concerns you, it is best to get help. The challenge with infant and child mental health is it hard to know what it causing the behavioural changes, it is best to bring the child to see their doctor and share your observations and concerns. The doctor is the best place to start to make sure it is not something physiological, which can look similar and have a different treatment. The doctor will tell you if they think some form of therapy or talking with a mental health professional will help.
Children express their thoughts and feelings through play and art as adults do by talking. So watch what they are playing. For instance, it would be typical for a child to comfort their “baby” doll and what they say and how they care for their doll will provide you some insight into what they are feeling, hearing or experiencing. Use your empathy to wonder about what your child is sharing in their play. Being open and emotionally available to your children during difficult times is especially important as infant and child mental health is often related to the parents and families wellbeing. Think about what they may be experiencing or feeling in their home without the benefit of understanding the adult world. Is there something that you can do to share more loving interactions with them so they feel emotionally safe, like reading books, or riding bikes, something fun and connected you can do together, which also may distract from the stressful feelings. Nature and physical activity have powerful affects on mental health and coping with stress, get outside and find some awe and wonder while moving your body. Children respond more quickly then adults to changes in their environment, you will likely see changes through the providing of boundaries, physical activity, interest and engagement and loving support. If you continue to be concerned listen to yourself, you know your children the best, go to their doctor and share your concerns. Also make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Parents are the most important people in a child’s life. Your children need you to feel safe and cared for too, make sure you are creating and safe environment of care and love for the whole family.
Life with Kids
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Disclaimer of Liability
The content, including information and or advice provided on this site or by Dr. Nikki Martyn is intended for informational purposes only and are the views of Dr. Nikki Martyn to be used generally as guidance. If you have concerns about your child or parenting please see your doctor or health care provider for specific health and or wellbeing concerns they can assess and provide a referral if necessary. If you think you have a medical emergency please call 911 or the emergency services in your area.