Helping your child develop socially and emotionally throughout their childhood and adolescence will help establish a solid foundation for a lifetime of positive mental health.
When children’s social, emotional and behavioral needs are consistently met, they are more likely to show success in school attendance and performance—and they are more likely to make positive behavior choices in the future. If parents are concerned about a possible mental health issue in their child, it’s best to address the problem as soon as possible by contacting behavioral health professionals and preventing a larger issue from developing. Discussing your concerns with your child’s pediatrician is always a good first step.
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health is one of the most important parts of a child’s learning and general health and includes these factors: how we think, feel, act, relate to others, communicate and learn, and respond to what life throws our way.
Just as things can go wrong with our heart, lungs and other organs, things can go wrong with our brain, affecting our emotional and mental state. Not only can parents support a child’s physical well-being, but they can support their child’s social, emotional and behavioral development—or mental health—by identifying and responding to concerns early.
Mental Health Begins at Birth
The first few years of a child’s life are critical in their social, emotional and behavioral development. Infant and early childhood mental health refers to a child’s ability to experience, express and control emotion; form close, secure relationships; and explore the environment and learn.
Young children’s mental health can affect their behavior in home, school and community settings. Mental health issues are surprisingly common among young children under the age of 6, and studies show up to 10 percent of all young children have significant emotional and behavioral issues.
A positive, nurturing relationship with a primary caregiver can mitigate the effects of unpleasant or negative experiences on a child’s social and emotional development. This foundation not only reduces the risk of mental health challenges throughout life, but it decreases the risk of physical health problems, such as heart disease. For more information on the importance of stressing mental health in young children, see kidcentral tn’s webpage on Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.
What You Can Do Throughout Childhood
Here are things parents and community members can do to promote mental health in children, from birth through high school:
- Parents can learn and implement protective factors. One of the most important things a parent can do is spend time with their child and let the child know he or she is loved, has a purpose in life, and people to count on if bad things do happen. This is called building resiliency.
Protective factors include:
- Safe, supportive and nurturing learning environments
- High self-esteem
- Good problem-solving and communication skills
- Feelings of control in their own life
- Consistent home/family structure and routine
- How to communicate feelings and needs in a pro-social way
- Healthy practices—good nutrition, the right amount of sleep and regular exercise
- Healthy relationships with parents, family members, and friends
- Feeling close to at least one adult (every child needs one “North Star”—a person they can depend on all the time)
- Parents can attend a mental health first aid training session. Youth Mental Health First Aid is an eight-hour hour public education program that introduces participants to the unique risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents. It also teaches individuals how to help an adolescent who may be experiencing a mental health challenge.
The course is designed for adults who regularly interact with adolescents (teachers, school staff, coaches, youth group leaders, parents, etc.). For more information, contact Janet Watkins (Janet.Watkins@tn.gov).
- Become a Certified Family Support Specialist (CFSS). The Family Support Specialist Certification Program (FSSCP) offers state certification for individuals who provide direct caregiver-to-caregiver support services to families of children and youth with mental, emotional, behavioral, or co-occurring disorders.
Because of their life experience in caring for children with these disorders and navigating child-serving systems, Certified Family Support Specialists are able to use their experience to inspire hope and provide support to others who are facing similar challenges. For more information, contact Brenda Donaldson (Brenda.Donaldson@tn.gov).
Learn more about the National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Campaign at SAMHSA.gov.
Explore the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s resources on children’s mental health.
Learn the mental health warning signs.
Call the Helpline for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services at 800-560-5767 for answers to your questions or help finding local services.
Learn about additional mental health resources.
If you believe your child may be experiencing a mental health crisis, contact crisis services for children. If you need crisis services at any time, call the statewide toll-free crisis hotline at: 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).