By Penny Sitler, Executive Director
Sitler: As school returns, help ensure kids have good mental health
The new school year is upon us! Remember the drama of school and how hard it could be? And that was before the internet!
Raising a child today is hard, it doesn’t come with a manual and often, we feel like we are winging it. We know children today are dealing with some heavy stuff – cyber-bullying, body shaming, community violence, abuse, neglect, unstable home lives, drug exposure, sexual orientation, and more. Youth can be moody, hard to read and don’t always want to talk.
Emotions are a basic part of the human experience, but sometimes we struggle with how to deal with them effectively. Children aren’t any different. Young people are dealing with real problems and complicated emotions. Sometimes they act out in school or at home because they have yet to learn good coping skills. How can parents work with their children to help them process their emotions appropriately and better understand what’s going on? While we can’t completely shield our children from all the stressful or traumatic situations they may face, we can help them learn to manage their emotions and reactions in ways that cultivate resilience. Equipping them with appropriate coping skills for when they struggle with emotions leads to better mental and physical health in adulthood.
It’s hard as parents to know how to approach a child who is struggling with emotional or behavioral issues. If you are concerned about whether a specific behavior is doing harm, it’s important not to ignore it. Encourage communication, let your child know that they can talk to you and provide them with an environment that is safe and supportive. Listen. Try not to overreact. Remember what it was like to be young. Often they need your help but don’t know quite how to ask. Be patient, but address serious issues head-on. By providing supportive environments and teaching children and teens to recognize their emotions and address them in healthy ways, we can change lives.
If you think your child is going through emotional or behavioral issues, MHA has an online youth screening to help determine if a child is at risk: http://mhalc.org/resources/online-mental-health-screening/. There are screenings for adults as well. Find tips and information to help you get started with that important conversation with your child at http://bit.ly/talk2teens. Some serious signs that someone is in crisis and needs immediate help include thoughts of suicide or plans of hurting another person. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 211 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text your zip code to 898211 or call 911. Just like physical illnesses, treating mental health problems early (before Stage 4) can help to prevent more serious problems from developing in the future. Start the conversation. You and your child will be glad you did.
Start off the school year right by taking good care of your children’s bodies and minds. Doing both can make a difference in how well they do in school, how well they manage change, their productivity and overall health. We at MHA wish everyone a happy, healthy school year. Call us at 740-522-1341 if we can be of help.