(CMR) The term mental health can be scary, especially when it comes to your children. However, it should not be swept under the carpet; mental health issues do exist in children.
If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, start by discussing them with your pediatrician, Explore Parents suggests. While not glaring signs of mental illness, there are several things that can indicate that your child has a behavioral or emotional disorder.
According to Explore Parents, here are the most common behaviors to look out for:
1. Disordered sleep. Beyond babyhood, kids should be getting around ten hours of sleep per night. Serious concerns go far beyond the usual gripes. Children with depression sometimes seem excessively sleepy and drawn to bed at odd hours of the day. Those with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or DMDD often take hours to fall asleep and wake up multiple times every night. K
2. Tummy trouble. Bellyaches are a common kid complaint, but frequent stomach pains that can’t be explained by constipation or food intolerance might have psychological roots. Research has long linked chronic GI woes in children with both anxiety and depression.
3. Obsessive thoughts or fears. In kids who may have anxiety, a thought becomes so all-consuming that it interferes with everyday life. Common obsessions, particularly in children who also have OCD, are safety and germs. A child suffering from OCD may be compelled to wash his hands several times a day, often at inconvenient times, to ease his anxieties. Fears can wreck routines too. “A typical kid who gets stung by a bee might try to avoid bees but still play normally,” says Carol Weitzman, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Yale University. “We become concerned when a child’s fear of bees keeps him inside, and the whole family starts to organize their plans around that—skipping trips to the park or the pool.”
4. Disinterest in Fun. Kids have different passions, but a depressed child doesn’t get excited about much of anything. “It’s common to see an inability to find joy, even in things that used to seem exciting,” says Joan Luby, M.D., director of the early emotional development program at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
5. Guilty conscience. “A child who’s prone to depression may feel absolutely terrible about small transgressions and need an unusual amount of reassurance to feel better,” says Dr. Luby. Recent brain research shows that an area of the brain called the anterior insula is smaller than average in guilt-prone children as well as in depressed adults, suggesting this character trait might be a powerful predictor of later depression.
6. Explosive anger. Daily tantrums with aggression, destructive behavior, and other signs of abnormal intensity can be symptoms of DMDD, depression, and other concerns.
7. Dark thoughts. In Dr. Luby’s research on depressed preschoolers, she found that many acted out morbid themes during imaginary play. Even small acts of self-harm can be a harbinger. At age 6, Angie Duray’s son Will, who has depression, would literally beat himself up over a tricky homework assignment. “He’d call himself a stupid idiot and say he’d never learn, and then he’d bang his head on the table. One time he stabbed his hand with a sharp pencil,” Angie remembers.
If your child displays any of these or other behaviors of concern, don't panic. Get help for your child. Remember, they are the future adults. Helping them now will ensure a better tomorrow.