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Posted on October 17, 2022 at 12:16 PM by Kari Bray
This is Part 21 in a multi-week series of blogs focused on the ABC’s for Healthy Kids. Learn more at www.snohd.org/healthykids.
Childhood stress can have lifelong impacts, but so can the lessons learned in how to cope with challenges.There are many techniques and ideas to help young people handle pressure. Remember that you are modeling habits for them – good or bad.Believe children or teens if they express that they are struggling with mental health. Serious concerns like depression or anxiety are not limited to adults.
Children’s mental health, traumatic childhood experiences, and how they are supported (or not supported) through those can have a large and lifelong impact on their overall health.
Stressors that impact children can be different than what adults experience. Parents or caregivers sometimes lose sight of how much pressure young people are under. Children and teens may experience significant stress at home, at school, in personal relationships, in their activities, and due to events in their community. They also go through many of the things adults do, just from a different perspective. For example, a divorce or separation causes strain and pain for the adults as well as for the children involved, but in different ways.
Kids also are still learning how to express themselves, cope with strong emotions, and set boundaries, so it’s not uncommon for them to become overwhelmed. Add to that growing up, going through puberty, and tackling other major milestones for kids and teens – and there is a lot going on.
You also may have heard about adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. These are childhood events that have been proven to impact individuals long-term and often lead to additional traumatic experiences for them or their children. They include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, parental divorce or separation, witnessing violence at home, having a family member incarcerated, having substance use in their home, and having a household member with mental illness.
Reducing the number of ACEs in a child’s life, as well as ensuring support for children who do experience trauma, is essential.
Any trusted adult in a child’s life can help them through these challenges. Work with them on healthy coping strategies. It’s good to start introducing these with smaller stressors, if possible, so that children can build skills to use for harder times.
Even young children can experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Mental health crises are not limited to adults – and neither is mental health care.
Think about your child’s mental health much the way you think about their physical health. If they badly sprained their ankle and struggled to walk without pain, you would take them in for a doctor’s appointment. If they are experiencing depression and struggling to sleep, eat, or go about their day without pain, you should seek help for that, as well.
If you’re not sure how to tell if your child or teen is struggling with mental health, the first piece of advice is to believe them. Believe them if they say they are having a hard time. Don’t dismiss their concerns as something temporary if they express that they regularly experience symptoms of anxiety or depression. Believe their actions, too. If they are behaving out of character, losing joy in things they previously appreciated, distancing from friends and family, or otherwise causing your parent instincts to go into overdrive, make sure you check in with them. Let them know that it is OK to ask for help, and that you are willing to do what you can to help find the right support for them.
In Washington state, health plans that include medical and surgical services must cover medically necessary mental health services, as well, according to the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner. If you or your child is uninsured, you can learn more about finding free or low-cost health coverage at wahealthplanfinder.org.
There’s a variety of information and other resources available, as well. A few are listed below, but don’t forget that there may be resources specific to your family or community, such as mental health support through school programs, community organizations, faith communities, or connections made by talking to your child’s pediatrician or regular healthcare provider.
Take some time now to check off the “U” in the ABC’s for healthy kids. Do you know what pressures your child is experiencing, and how to help?
Childhood mental health has lifelong impacts on the health of individuals, their family, and their community.