Caring for Your Child’s Mental Health

The coronavirus pandemic has raised our awareness of many things we once took for granted, from grandparents’ hugs to neighborhood birthday parties. One issue of concern across age groups—including children—is the importance of maintaining not only good physical health, but also mental health.

“Mental health issues are becoming not only more prevalent, but more recognized,” says Angelique Winston, MSW, a licensed independent social worker with Kettering Health Network. “In children it could be anything from ADHD to anxiety to even more complex issues.”

Angelique adds, “It’s important to recognize that children also experience trauma, and trauma impacts children in different ways.” In a world filled with technology, children are aware of and exposed to happenings not only in their own household and neighborhood, but in their community and beyond. “They’re going to have positive reactions, but also some negative reactions that might come out as signs of mental health issues.”

What to watch for

Angelique says that in many cases—adults and kids—the pandemic has exacerbated or brought to the forefront underlying mental health issues that were already present but perhaps were undiagnosed, such as a child whose anxiety struggles might become harder without the social interaction of in-person school.

Sometimes the cause of a child’s mental health struggles is apparent—family issues such as divorce, the death or serious illness of a close family member, or other crises. Other times, parents might simply sense that something is a bit “off” with their child, or note a change in their behavior.

“The goal is always optimal functioning,” Angelique says. “Is my child getting up in the morning? Able to take care of their needs? Taking care of their hygiene? Going to school, working to their optimal level? Interacting appropriately with people? If you start noticing those things are breaking down, something’s not right, so it’s time to tap into that.

How to respond

If you suspect or know your child is struggling with mental health issues, Angelique offers the following guidance.

  • *Open the door. Ideally, no matter how old your child is, you’re already in the habit of having one-on-one conversations when phones and other distractions are set aside—whether spontaneously while driving in the car, or at home on a routine basis. If not, then start. “We need to have that constant relationship and connection from when they’re 3 to 5 to 8 to 12 to teens and beyond. This has to be a building of relationship, so that when something comes up the child feels comfortable enough to say, ‘Mom, something’s going on here.’”
  • *Get your child talking. “Ask open-ended questions: ‘Tell me how your day went. Who did you interact with? How are things going? You’re changing, you’re growing, and I want to make sure I stay connected with who you are as a person.’ Let them know, ‘You can come to me anytime. I will never be upset with you for coming to me to talk about a problem you have.’”
  • *Offer reassurance. If your child does confide in you, “The most important thing is to first normalize their experience,” Angelique advises. “Be supportive and say, ‘I’m here for you. This is not something that only you are dealing with. This is something many people deal with, young and old. So that means it’s manageable—it can be taken care of.’”
  • *Consult professionals if needed. “If your child is school-aged, contact the school to find out what services the school can offer,” Angelique says, “especially if the situation is impacting their schooling and academics.” Also talk to your child’s doctor, who has many resources and can refer you to a licensed therapist and other professionals. If your child doesn’t have a primary care provider, find one at or call 1-844-576-3627.

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