It’s Mental Health Awareness Month! Earlier this month, we wrote about children’s mental health —and what it means to nurture your child’s mental health throughout their childhood.
When a child has strong mental health, it provides a lifelong foundation that helps them succeed in school and work, develop long-term caring relationships, and feel deeply connected to their emotional selves.
Just as you provide your child with physical care and nourishment, such as healthy food, exercise, and medical care, mental health care is equally important. However, understanding precisely how to nourish and support your child’s mental health can be a bit more complicated.
Promoting strong mental health in your child means a few things:
The path toward strong mental health begins with social-emotional development, which can be achieved by providing your child with a safe space filled with care, love, and respect.
When your child receives the support and guidance they need in childhood, they are able to better cope with life, regulate their emotions, and build strong, long-lasting relationships with their peers, teachers, and family members.
When a child doesn’t have a strong mental health foundation it can impact how a child learns, behaves, or regulates their emotions.
Common mental health disorders diagnosed in childhood include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and other behavioral disorders. In the United States, approximately 6 million children (or nearly 10 percent) are diagnosed with ADHD; 5.8 million are diagnosed with anxiety, and 5.5 million are diagnosed with behavior problems.
Many mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders begin in early childhood, according to research. 1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2–8 years (17.4 percent) had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
All of these statistics highlight the importance of developing sound mental health in children. When a child has a strong foundation, it supports all other aspects of their lives.
When examining the prevalence of mental health conditions in young children, challenges often occur as a result of a child’s genetics and exposure to significant adversity. Although genetics do play a large role, they are not the only factor—a child’s environment can also have a powerful impact on the strength or weakness of their mental health foundation.
Children who experience toxic stress or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at a much greater risk of developing poor mental health. ACEs can include a wide range of traumatic events, including physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness, exposure to household or community violence, and death in the family.
One study found that children with three or more reported ACEs had a much higher prevalence of a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder (36.3 percent versus 11 percent). Among children living below 100% of the federal poverty level, more than 1 in 5 (or 22 percent) developed a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
Toxic stress—the result of a strong, prolonged biological response to adversity—can damage the architecture of a child’s brain, increasing the likelihood that significant mental health challenges may occur either immediately or in the future.
If young children aren’t provided with appropriate mental support, many issues that emerge in early childhood may become more serious over time. Early prevention strategies and efforts are incredibly beneficial.
At One Place, all of our programs are designed to provide children with positive relationships and nurturing experiences—by educating parents and caregivers on the importance of social-emotional development and offering high-quality early childhood education opportunities.
When children in our community are hurt by abuse or through other adverse childhood experiences, they may need professional help to cope with their trauma. Our Child Advocacy Center is a child-focused facility that brings together law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, and medical and mental health professionals to develop a coordinated strategy to help a child in need.
Do you have a child that struggles with anxiety? Watch for our upcoming blog on tips for helping children manage anxiety.