When it comes to children’s health, it’s easy to detect a broken bone on an x-ray, or a rash on the skin. What’s not so visible to the naked eye is a mental health disorder. Unlike a tummy-ache that a child can express complaints about, they may not know or be able to verbalize when they are experiencing poor mental health. This is part of what makes self-care crucial for optimal mental health, especially in childhood.
All children have periods of time where they feel down, frustrated or worried. But when these changes in moods become more frequent or severe and begin to interfere with daily life, it may be an indication of a mental health condition.
Some possible early signs of a mental health condition include:
- Excessive worrying and fear
- Excessive sadness
- Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
- Extreme mood changes
- Prolonged anger or irritability
- Avoiding social interactions
- Having low or no energy
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Hearing voice or hallucinations
- Suicidal thoughts
If you notice any of these symptoms or other out of the ordinary behaviors in your child, the first step is to talk to their doctor. A medical professional can make an accurate diagnosis and guide your child on the right treatment path.
However, taking care of our children’s mental health should extend past the doctor’s office. Engaging in routine self-care can help children with, or without, a mental illness diagnosis develop lifelong healthy habits to be proactive in managing their overall well-being.
Here are easy ways that you and your child can start a self-care journey:
1. Provide resources for your children to learn about various health conditions.
Learning about new and unfamiliar matters in a language or manner your child can understand can help them to make sense out of what they are experiencing, ultimately helping them to cope more effectively.
2. Stay active.
Even if it’s with simple activities like routine bike rides or walks. Exercise is commonly known to help treat physical conditions like obesity or diabetes, but physical activity is also a great mood booster! Exercise helps stimulate the body to produce natural “feel-good” hormones, and by getting moving, your child can release any pent-up stress or anxieties, and feel more energized.
3. Encourage healthy eating habits through small modifications in your child’s diet.
Consider swapping out sugar-containing refined carbs found in everyday foods such as white bread, for nutrient-dense complex carbs like whole wheat or multigrain bread. This way your child can still enjoy their favorite PB&J but without the extra blood sugar spikes that can cause mood and energy fluctuations.
4. Catch some Zs.
Poor quality or lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing certain mental illnesses, while a proper night’s rest can actually help to alleviate symptoms of poor mental health. Simple changes in your child’s sleeping environment can remedy restless nights. Remove distractions like phones, TVs and other electronics as the lights from screens can hinder your child’s ability to fall asleep. You can also facilitate a more comfortable sleeping environment tailored to your child’s preferences. For example, a fan can provide cool temperatures as well as a little white noise to promote relaxation.
A child’s mental and emotional needs may not always be obvious at first. Sharing your concerns with your child’s primary care provider is a always a good start to helping your child. Click here to find a primary care pediatrician in your area. Good mental health allows children to think clearly, develop socially and learn new skills. Additionally, good friends and encouraging words from parents and teachers help children develop confidence, self-esteem, and a healthy emotional outlook on life.