As a parent, you have a number of things to worry about in regard to your child. You have to cater to their needs, like providing food, proper clothing, and putting them to bed at a reasonable hour. But how often do you think about their mental and emotional needs? Mental health support is an essential part of your child’s development. And mental health is part of an interactive relationship with their physical health and a number of other things. While these needs aren’t as obvious, mental health allows kids to develop socially, learn new things, and think clearly. Both physical and mental health affects how we think, feel, and act – not just on the outside but on the inside as well. As a new school year begins, it’s important to make sure your child has mental health support, so they are set up for success.

Mental Health Disorders and Kids

It’s estimated that roughly 15-million kids and teens in the US are affected by mental health issues. These disorders include depression, anxiety, and conduct disorder. And more often than not, these disorders are a direct response to the events happening in their lives. There are other risks of developing a mental health disorder such as biology and genetics and how a child interacts within their community and with their peers. Unfortunately, it not enough of kids who show symptoms of a mental health disorder receive the appropriate help from mental health professionals. Without this professional help, these kids are less likely to develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with what life throws them. Not to mention help them grow into well-rounded young adults.

Physical and Mental Health Support

We know that physical health affects mental health and vice versa – health is a cycle after all.

Here are some basics to better mental and physical health:

  • Nutritious food
  • Adequate shelter and sleep
  • Exercise
  • Immunizations
  • Healthy living environment
  • Unconditional love from family
  • Self-confidence and high self-esteem
  • The opportunity to play with other children
  • Involvement in local activity (finding purpose)
  • Encouraging teachers and supportive caretakers
  • Safe and secure surroundings
  • Appropriate guidance and discipline

Love, Confidence, and Self-Esteem

We’re sure you adore and love your kids. And we’re sure you express that love to them. Children need to know your love isn’t dependent on their accomplishments. Make sure to show them this unconditional love even when they make mistakes or when they fall short of a goal. Confidence can only flourish in a home full of love and acceptance. Praise them when they deserve it. Set realistic goals that match their ambition. Be honest with them about your own shortcomings to show them no one is perfect, but that we can all grow from our mistakes.

Playtime Is Crucial

It’s easy to forget the importance of play as an adult. And while playing is super fun, it is also critical to their development. Playtime helps kids learn problem-solving skills and unleash their creativity. And learning through play can help with retention! Besides, “fun” keeps kids interested and willing to engage. Afraid they aren’t getting enough physical activity? Turn exercise into a game like tag, racing, or an obstacle course. Is your kid having trouble remembering their multiplication tables? Turn it into a hopscotch game!

You as a parent can be a great playmate for your kids. But also make sure they have playtime with their own peers. Playing with others can help kids discover their own strengths and weaknesses, help them develop a sense of community, and help them learn to get along with others.

Providing Guidance and Discipline

Believe it or not, your kids want to make you proud. And while you need to provide them with the opportunities to explore and develop new skills independently, you also need to provide them with the knowledge that some things are simply not acceptable. Kids thrive with structure, and any acting out can be traced back to them wanting your attention. Children need to learn from an early age that certain behavior and action are unacceptable and that they are responsible for the consequences of their actions.

One way to show mental health support is by setting rules within your family unit and stick to the appropriate outcome of breaking said rules. Be firm, yet open and realistic with your expectations. Set a proper example so they have someone to look up to. Criticize their behavior rather than them as a little human. Avoid nagging, threats, and bribery as they are rarely effective.

Talk about Your Feelings

We don’t care how uncomfortable it may be. You have to be open and communicate your own feelings with your child if you ever want them to feel safe enough to share their own. When they see and hear the adults around them opening up, it shows emotional communication as normal. Tell them about the times you’ve been scared or sad. Explain why you get angry about certain things and what that anger feels like. The more you encourage (and set an example) of talking about your feelings when your kids are young, the more likely they’ll be to share and be open as they grow.

Is This a Stage?

It can be hard to tell the difference between typical child development and what should be concerned with as mental illness. It’s important to take any concerning behavior seriously, as many of these disorders to stem from childhood. Just think about the number of adults who have traced certain triggers and issues back to their childhood. In general, if a child’s behavior persists for a few weeks or longer, causes distress, and interferes with functioning at school, at home, or with friends, then consider seeking help.

Always seek immediate help if a child engages in unsafe behavior or talks about wanting to hurt him or herself or someone else. A thorough evaluation can help determine if treatment is necessary, and which treatments may be most effective.

When to Bring in a Professional?

The following signs may indicate the need for professional assistance or evaluation:

  • A decline in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Regular worry or anxiety
  • Complain about frequent stomach or headaches with no known medical cause
  • Become disinterested in playing with other kids
  • Repeated refusal to go to school or take part in normal children’s activities
  • Hyperactivity or fidgeting
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Repeat their actions or check things because of a fear
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Depression, sadness or irritability

Mental Health Support with CPA

If you have concerns about your child, there are a number of things you can do. Talk to your child’s teacher to discuss their behavior in school. You can also talk to their pediatrician to discuss their behavior and see if they have any insight. Finally, ask around for a referral or research into a mental health professional with experience in child therapy. Therapy and counseling are safe spaces where you can voice your concerns, develop coping and communication skills, and find the support you and your child need.

Remember, therapy is hard work! It can feel extremely uncomfortable and even exhausting. Having a hand to hold and help guide you will only add to your personal success. Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and one in the Robinson area. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you stress less this summer!

* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.

Jennifer Krause – MS, LPC

Jennifer is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She received her Masters of Science Degree from Chatham University. She has over 18 years of counseling experience with a wide range of patients in a variety of treatment settings. These have included: outpatient community mental health agencies, partial psychiatric hospital settings, both inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol facilities, correctional settings, and an outpatient intensive treatment foster care program.  Her clinical experience has been broad, treating both adolescents and adults struggling with: addiction, trauma, mood disorders, anger management issues, borderline personality disorder, depression, and anxiety.  Jen also has experience with couples counseling, working with families, and group therapy. She has extensive training in Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Trauma-Focused CBT.


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