Parenting a Child with Mental Health Issues

Are you parenting a child with mental health issues? If so, you’re not alone.

Millions of parents across the globe face similar challenges daily. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 6 million American children between 3 and 17 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), 5.8 million have anxiety, and nearly 3 million have depression.

If you are parenting a child with mental illness, there are many things you can do to improve the outcomes for your child, yourself, and the whole family.

Keep reading to discover helpful tips when parenting a child with mental health issues.

Love Your Child

If a child has a mental health disorder, it means their brain and nervous system are not functioning correctly. The communication parts of the brain malfunction, sending out incorrect messages to the rest of the body. Mental illness is not your child’s fault or your fault. 

One of the best things you can do for your child is to show them that you love them no matter what, just as you would if they had a broken leg, contracted COVID, or developed cancer. Showing love and encouragement lets them know everything will be okay and that they are not alone.

Do Some Research

You are your best educator on issues regarding your child. There are many reputable resources online with accurate information on mental health issues among children. A few examples where you can find valuable parent or guardian information include the following:

  • Your local Mental Health Center
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • Mental Health America (MHA_
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
  • National Federation of Families (NFF)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMSHA)
  • Local school guidance counselor

You can learn so much about mental health among children and adolescents at any stage of mental illness, including prevention.

Collaborate with Professionals

Your child’s mental health is the priority. If you are the only person helping your child, the results may not be successful. However, if you work with others who prioritize your child’s mental health, the odds of success increase. 

Your child needs a team that should include support for mental health, academics, social skills, family education, and family therapy. Work closely with the guidance counselor and social workers who can provide support services during the school day. Establish individual counseling for your child at the local Mental Health Center that incorporates family into the therapeutic process. Enroll your child in peer support groups so they can meet other kids their age with similar mental health issues. 

Sometimes, your child has medical or biological issues contributing to mental health. If so, make their family doctor or specialist part of the team. Allow the team to communicate with one another, and you collaborate on the best treatment plan for your child.

Recognize the Signs

Each mental health disorder has specific signs and symptoms that distinguish them from other mental illnesses. However, there are some general signs. If you recognize any of the signs below for more than two weeks, it is time to contact a local therapist for further evaluation. 

Signs in Young Children

  • Bedwetting
  • Being unable to fall or stay asleep
  • Having night terrors
  • Acting irritable or moody for no apparent reason
  • Becoming more disobedient, violent, or aggressive
  • Having separation anxiety or irrational fears
  • Experiencing digestive problems

Signs in Teenagers

  • Appearing depressed or sad for no apparent reason
  • Isolating or withdrawing from family, friends, and social activities
  • Discussing or attempting to harm themselves or others
  • Becoming overwhelmed or anxious for no apparent reason
  • Losing or gaining weight through inappropriate methods (not eating, overeating)
  • Being unable to concentrate or focus
  • Misusing alcohol, drugs, or other substances
  • Changing moods or personalities unexpectedly
  • Changing appearance or hygiene efforts
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Seeing changes in academic performance
  • Experiencing unexplained physical ailments

The sooner you seek a mental health evaluation for your child, the better. You may be able to prevent the above symptoms from worsening and leading to harsher consequences.

Reduce Risk Factors

Mental health disorders do not occur due to one factor. Multiple risk factors make a child more likely to develop a mental illness. Risk factors include genetics since there are genes that can be passed down to younger generations. Having the genes alone does not guarantee a mental illness. It is one risk factor that, combined with other factors, puts your child at risk.

Other risk factors may be experiencing trauma such as abuse, living in a chaotic or unhealthy environment, misusing alcohol or drugs, discrimination, medical conditions, low self-esteem, bullying, and negative peer influences. Also, lack of healthy relationships, having parents with addiction or criminality, and any significant event that causes stress.

Be a Good Role Model

You may not think your child watches or learns from you, but they do. They mimic your words and behavior. Therefore, you are one of the best solutions for helping your child with a mental illness. Be an excellent mental health role model by caring for yourself and your mental health. Here are some suggestions:

  • Talk Openly About Mental Health

The stigma surrounding mental health is fading because people openly discuss it, share their stories, and seek help. Continue this by talking to your child about mental health, statistics among youth, and resources for use. 

  • Change Lifestyle Habits

Lifestyle can contribute to and exacerbate mental health disorders. If you can improve your lifestyle, do it. Let your child see how small changes can make a big difference in their health—for example, eating healthier, avoiding drugs or alcohol, exercising, and participating in healthy activities.

  • Access Community Resources

Most communities have numerous resources to assist in improving a child’s mental health. Access them with your child. You can attend an ADHD support group, learn a new hobby together, meet with a family therapist, or become more involved at their school.

If you are parenting a child with mental health issues, don’t hesitate to contact the local Mental Health Center today. You can create a plan to cope with and overcome mental illness.