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Mental Health: How Parents Can Help Their Children

Author: Anne Russell, LCSW
Published Date: Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Did you know that one in five children has a diagnosable mental health condition? Yet, less than a quarter of youth who need mental health care receive it. Don’t let your child be one of them. Just as parents play a vital role in their children’s physical health, they should prioritize their mental health, too.

Here are three strategies to foster your child’s mental health:

  • Help your children develop resiliency through everyday activities. 
  • Stay in tune with your children so you are aware of any mental health symptoms that develop.
  • Lastly, ask for help if your child needs it.

Help your children grow resiliency by creating structure and routine. This can help them feel they have a sense of control and consistency.

Try these tips to help them grow resiliency:

Create healthy habits.

Make sure your child gets well-balanced meals, lots of water, exercise, and plenty of sleep. Coping with stress is easier if you’re not hungry and tired.

Listen and love.

Spend quality time with your children, making face-to-face conversation a priority. Point out their strengths and abilities, and the importance of making appropriate choices and treating others with kindness and respect. Be a good listener to validate their feelings. Be honest and open if you have concerns.

Be media savvy.

Understand social media and establish boundaries for its use. Use parental control features on media devices to restrict access to inappropriate content. Also, limit screen time for yourself and children so you’ll have more time for personal interaction.

Model ways to deal with stress.

Encourage open and honest discussion about stress, both yours and theirs. Show your child how to handle stressful situations to convey, “We will get through this, and be okay.” Model problem solving and time management techniques in your daily life, and help children apply them to their own situations. Show them ways to reduce stress, such as exercise, helping others, and spending time outdoors.

Reach out.

Teach your children that if they ever feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or confused by a situation or something they see on TV or online, they should reach out to an adult they trust. Model that behavior yourself by asking for help when you, or your children, need it.

Be aware of symptoms.

Life happens. It’s natural to react to stressful situations with fear and anxiety. But, when does your child’s response to stress need closer attention? If your child’s anxiety and behavior are regularly having a negative impact at school, home, and in social circles, it’s time to reach out.

Pay attention to the following red flags:

  • Insomnia or sleeping excessively.
  • Dramatic weight loss.
  • Loss of self-esteem. Feelings of hopelessness.
  • Disruptive behavior on a regular basis.
  • Drop in grades at school.
  • Lack of interest in attending school or classes.
  • Withdrawing from usual activities.
  • Isolation from friends and family.
  • Personality shift, excessive anger, paranoia, or secrecy.
  • Sudden lack of willingness to talk to you about what’s going on.
  • Suspected drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Fear that your child could harm themselves or others.

Ask for help.

  • Schedule a visit with your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider. This should be someone both you and your child have a relationship with and trust.
  • Pediatricians can refer children to CHKD for further mental health assessment and outpatient therapy. Information about mental health services at CHKD can be found at CHKD.org/MentalHealth.
  • Parents can also seek mental health services with a community mental health provider by contacting their insurance company for a list of providers in their network.

If your child is in a mental health crisis or is in danger of hurting themselves or others, and you are not sure what to do, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department immediately. Another option is to call the 24-hour crisis line of the Community Services Board in your area:

Chesapeake: (757) 548-7000

Norfolk: (757) 664-7690

Portsmouth: (757) 393-8990

Suffolk, Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County: (757) 925-2484

Virginia Beach: (757) 385-0888

Hampton and Newport News: (757) 788-0011

Eastern Shore, Accomack County, Northampton County: (757) 442-7707 or (800) 764-4460

James City and County, York County, Poquoson, Williamsburg: (757) 378-5555

For guidance from CHKD experts about mental health emergencies, visit CHKD.org/MentalHealth.



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About Anne Russell, LCSW

Anne Russell has worked with children in the community since 2005 and has been providing therapy to children since 2009. Russell became a licensed clinical social worker in 2013 and started her LCSW career as a clinician at CHKD’s Child Abuse Program in 2013. She is considered an expert in child maltreatment and trauma. She joined the CHKD Mental Health Program in 2018. Read more.