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Your Child’s Mental Health: Is This Just a Stage?

It’s inevitable, children go through stages. The ‘eat everything’ stage. The ‘Pokémon’ stage. The ‘Polly Pocket’ stage. The ‘my parents aren’t cool’ stage. The ‘end every sentence with ‘bro’ stage. Any parent is probably familiar with a couple if not all of these stages. When your teenager starts rolling their eyes at you when you try to give them advice, you as a parent shrug it off as just a phase.

But what about when you see your child start to deal with emotional and behavioral issues? How can a parent tell if their child is dealing with mental health issues or just a phase after all?

Even under the best of circumstances, it is often difficult to tell the difference between challenging behaviors and emotions that are consistent with typical child development, and those that are cause for concern. It is important to remember that many disorders, such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression, do occur during childhood.

In fact, many adults who seek treatment reflect back on how these disorders affected their childhood and wish that they had received help sooner.

The days of turning a blind eye to these real disorders that may be affecting our children are over.

In general, if a child’s behavior persists for a few weeks or longer, causes distress for the child or the child’s family, and interferes with functioning at school, at home, or with friends, then consider seeking help. If a child’s behavior is unsafe, or if a child talks about wanting to hurt him or herself or someone else, then seek help immediately.

Younger children may benefit from a mental health evaluation and treatment if they:
-Have frequent tantrums or are intensely irritable much of the time
-Often talk about fears or worries
-Complain about frequent stomachaches or headaches with no known medical cause
-Are in constant motion and cannot sit quietly (except when they are watching videos or playing videogames)
-Sleep too much or too little, have frequent nightmares or seem sleepy during the day
-Are not interested in playing with other children or have difficulty making friends
-Struggle academically or have experienced a recent decline in grades

Adolescents may benefit from a mental health evaluation and treatment if they:
-Have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy
-Have low energy
-Sleep too much or too little, or seem sleepy throughout the day
-Are spending more and more time alone, and avoid social activities with friends or family
-Fear gaining weight, or diet or exercise excessively
-Engage in self-harm behaviors (e.g., cutting or burning their skin)
-Smoke, drink or use drugs