By Dr. Alyson Shaw
Mental health affects the way people think, feel and act. Taking care of our mental health is just as important as having a healthy body. As a parent, you play an important role in your children’s mental health.
You can promote good mental health by the things you say and do, and through the environment you create at home. You can also learn about the early signs of mental health problems and know where to go for help.
Help children build strong, caring relationships. It’s important for children and youth to have strong relationships with family and friends.
Help children and youth develop self-esteem, so that they feel good about themselves. You can do this by:
• Showing lots of love and acceptance.
• Praising them when they do well.
• Asking questions about their activities and interests.
• Helping them set realistic goals.
Listen, and respect their feelings. It’s OK for children and youth to feel sad or angry. Encourage them to talk about how they feel. Keep communication and conversation flowing by asking questions and listening to your kids.
In difficult situations, help children and youth solve problems:
• Teach your children how to relax when they feel upset.
• Talk about possible solutions or ideas to improve a situation and how to make it happen.
One out of every five children and youth in Canada (20%) has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Examples include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and learning disabilities. Many more children have milder but significant emotional and behavioural problems.
Unfortunately, too many children and youth don’t get help soon enough. Mental health disorders can prevent children and youth from succeeding in school, from making friends or becoming independent from their parents. Children and youth with mental health disorders may have trouble reaching their developmental milestones.
The good news is that mental health disorders are treatable. There are many different approaches to helping children and youth struggling with emotional or mental health problems. Getting help
early is so important. It can prevent problems from becoming more serious, and can lessen the effect they have on your child’s development.
All children and youth are different. If you’re concerned your child may have a problem, look at whether there are changes in how he or she is thinking, feeling or acting. Mental health problems can also
lead to physical changes. Also ask yourself how your child is doing at home, at school and with friends.
Changes in feelings
• Reactions or feelings that seem bigger than the situation.
• Feeling helpless, hopeless, lonely or rejected.
Changes in behaviour
• Wanting to be alone often.
• Trouble relaxing or sleeping.
• Lacking energy, or feeling tired all the time.
• Too much energy, or nervous habits.
There are many ways to help your child achieve good mental health. Sharing your concerns with the doctor is one of them.
You should talk to your child’s doctor:
• if the behaviours described above last for a while, or if they interfere with your child’s ability to function;
• if you have concerns about your child’s emotional and mental health;
• about your child’s behavioural development and emotional health at each well-child visit.
If your child or teen talks about suicide or harming himself, call your doctor right away.
Dr. Alyson Shaw is a paediatrician in Ottawa. For more information on your child’s growth and development, get answers from Canada’s paediatric experts at www.caring forkids.cps.ca or www.soinsdenosenfants.cps.ca.