In our continuation of the discussion of mental health, it is important to also talk about childhood mental health and why it is so important. The mental health practices we develop in our childhood grow with us into adolescence and adulthood. If we foster unhealthy mental health practices at a young age and they are not corrected, it can have repercussions later on.
The way to determine if a child is mentally healthy is to make sure they have hit their developmental milestones, learned healthy social skills, developed proper coping skills, and can function properly at home, school, or in public.
How can you determine if your child is mentally healthy?
If your child is 1 to 4 years old:
Have they been increasingly independent starting around three years old? Around three years old, children begin to become independent and want to do things their own way. They may oppose you when you tell them to do something. This is not because they are intentionally trying to misbehave, but because they are developing their own opinion on how they want things to be done.
Do they have good or improving language and communication skills? Communication is key for any relationship, including your child’s. Keep in mind, children develop speech differently. Your friend’s two-year-old may be speaking in full sentences while yours only says a few words. That is okay! As long as your child is adding words to their vocabulary and learning ways to communicate with you (i.e. pointing, pulling you in a certain direction), your child is more than likely normal.
Have they begun to use their imagination during play? Having an imaginary friend or playing make-believe games is a sign your child is developing mentally and gives them a good chance at having solid social skills. Try not to discourage their fantasies as long as they can separate it from reality.
Is their attachment to you healthy? When babies and toddlers cry when their parents leave, this is normal separation anxiety that develops and eventually goes away. Your child should feel safe exploring freely while you are near. They should be able to accept your leaving or disappearing with little anxiety or negative emotions. Once you return, your child should be happy to see you and not aggressive.
Are they interested in learning? Your child does not have to be a genius. Most are not. But by 4 years old, they should have some interest in learning. Some children pretend to read, can draw pictures of people or things, or even write their own name. This is also around the time children will start to ask questions. LOTS of questions.
If your child can do these things, they are already on a path to good mental health. From 5 years old into adolescence, your child should build on these milestones regularly.
To assist your child’s mental health, set a good example at handling emotions and growth. Toddlers, particularly around two-years-old, are notorious when it comes to tantrums and meltdowns. Ever heard of the “Terrible Twos”? This is because they are developing those big emotions like anger, frustration, and embarrassment, and don’t know what to do with them. When things don’t go their way, stay calm. Help them work through their emotions in a healthy way so that as they get older, they can effectively process these emotions, foster good mental health, and maintain good social skills.
While many children are mentally and developmentally normal and healthy, about 1 in 6 children will have a childhood mental disorder. These disorders cause a child to have serious changes is what is perceived as normal childlike behavior. Common childhood mental disorders include ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), anxiety, behavior disorders, or developmental disabilities. Do not assume any change in behavior from your child is linked to a mental disorder. Observe your child for a short time and speak with a mental health professional to address the issue. External factors can cause changes in your child that can be addressed without a professional. If your child does have a mental health disorder, listen to your professional so that your child can grow up to live a normal, healthy life.
By: Better Me by Dr. B
Editor: Ariel Thompson
Medical Reviewer: Dr. Tiffany Bell D.O.