How to Support Your Child's Mental Health   

How to Support Your Child's Mental Health

Mother and child in the kitchen bonding and connecting
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Ulrick Vieux, D.O., MS, DFAPA

The COVID-19 pandemic brought several key health issues into greater focus, including children’s mental health. But the issue still isn’t spotlighted as much as it should be, and parents can do much to prioritize mental wellness in their own households, says Ulrick Vieux, D.O., a child psychiatrist at Hackensack University Medical Center.

“Children don’t have the cognitive ability to understand or explain why they may have some difficult emotions to work through, so if you are not tuned in, it can be easy to neglect their mental health needs,” Dr. Vieux says. “We also may not necessarily understand what kids are going through from an emotional perspective.”

Mental disorders can change the usual ways children learn, behave and handle their emotions. Those most commonly diagnosed in children include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and behavior disorders, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It’s not always easy to pinpoint why a child experiences mental health problems, but Dr. Vieux says several factors are known to be detrimental:

  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Emotional or physical neglect
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Household challenges such as violence between parents or a parent’s mental illness or substance use disorder

Since the pandemic kept many children and teenagers housebound for months—unable to attend school or social activities—any who were exposed to these negative family factors were more likely to experience serious emotional fallout. “The long-term effects of COVID are not only things like pulmonary problems, but also mental health issues,” Dr. Vieux says.

What Parents Can Do to Support Kids’ Mental Health

Dr. Vieux emphasizes the need to model healthy coping skills in these ways:

  • Practice mindfulness. This technique, considered a form of meditation, is characterized by simply noticing your surroundings and focusing on the present moment. “By increasing your attention and awareness, it can decrease impulsive acts—a skill that’s important to model to your kids,” Dr. Vieux says. “Meditation has also been found to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and enhance peace and a sense of well-being.”

  • Exercise, preferably together. Taking a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week (or doing other aerobic activities) increases your body’s levels of natural feel-good chemicals called endorphins. “Exercise is great for anyone dealing with even mild anxiety or depression,” Dr. Vieux says. “Parents should do it to be healthy for their kids, but it’s also a way for a family to bond.”

  • Socialize more. Another damaging aspect of the pandemic was social isolation, which people attempted to combat by spending more time on social media. “But that’s a false sense of communication with other people,” Dr. Vieux says. “To be mentally strong, families need to not isolate themselves.”

  • Be careful with words. “Try not to say something you’ll eventually have to apologize for. Be very careful with your words,” Dr. Vieux says. “We’ve all been in a place where we’ve been angry and frustrated, but the words you say can be daggers and can be tough to reconcile something painful later.”

  • Seek professional help when needed. It may feel impossible to respond optimally to your child’s feelings and behavior if you’re dealing with your own anxiety or depression. Tackle your mental health issues head-on with cognitive behavioral therapy. Consider family therapy if challenging issues crop up that would benefit from expert insight.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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