Children’s mental health: how and why to take care of it?

Childhood is an important stage in life. In it, children will experience situations, emotions and processes that have reflections throughout their lives.

Much is said about mental health , so it is necessary to think about it also in children. So, family and society must work together to build a suitable environment for child development !

What is the importance of mental health in childhood?

Mental health during childhood is the basis for good development, and may even prevent the onset of mental disorders such as depression , anxiety and personality disorders in adulthood.

During childhood, much of the development and maturation of the brain occurs, which is a plastic organ and adapts to the conditions of the environment.

Therefore, children exposed to a lot of stress constantly tend to have structural changes in the brain that end up influencing mental health in adulthood.

Experts call “toxic stress” a series of traumas, both profound and mild, but which when they show themselves continuously in the child’s life end up harming their development.

The stresses that a child can go through can be more or less bearable.

The light and fast ones, like the feeling of anger and nervousness when having a denied desire, are not so harmful and can even help in the child’s development, considering that it is necessary to learn to hear a “no” to develop a good tolerance to frustration.

There are also moderate stresses, usually traumatic, but which can be dealt with without causing too much damage with the help of family, friends and a whole support network around the child. Among these, is the death of a relative or a pet, or the impossibility of making a dream come true, for example.

Finally, a third category of stresses is negative, which can vary between intense and mild but continuous stresses. Some examples are situations of physical, sexual or psychological abuse, neglect, lack of affection, exaggerated demands, among others.

It is no wonder that most renowned psychologists have spent much of their lives studying childhood and the stages of development. Thanks to them, current psychology has the knowledge of where most internal conflicts and symptoms of adult life arise, which have their roots in childhood.

Likewise, psychologists also know what needs to be done to promote healthy development, significantly decreasing the chances of a child developing psychological disorders in adulthood.

In addition, a healthy childhood is important for the development of desirable personality traits, such as conscientiousness, openness to experience and kindness.

How can fathers and mothers develop a healthy environment for children?

What is important for caring for the mental health of children is to avoid toxic stress, which is often caused by mild but continuous stresses. That is, fathers and mothers must ensure that they are bearable or, at most, can be relieved with the presence of family and friends.

Parents who suffer from mental disorders, alcoholism and substance abuse should seek treatment as soon as possible, as these conditions affect the adult’s behavior, which in turn affects the child’s development.

Organizing a routine is extremely important, especially at younger ages, as the child does not yet have the ability to organize on his own and depends entirely on those responsible.

Thus, if there is a lack of family organization, this can affect basic care (which constitutes neglect).

This type of treatment is marked in the child’s psyche and he starts to have no confidence in the world, believing that his needs will not be met unless he forces it, which gives rise to unwanted behaviors such as aggression, lies, manipulation, among others. .

It is also important for caregivers to keep in mind that the child learns from models and, if they are not good, the child will suffer from it too.

Therefore, people who fight too much and turn the environment into hostile are paving the way for the child to have attitudes like that. Unstructured families in which emotions are unstable and intense raise children with these same characteristics.

This is especially important when fathers and mothers want to separate, but are afraid of their children. Fortunately, psychology shows us that separation is much better for the mental health of little ones than couples together and deeply unhappy.

Finally, caregivers cannot let the child live in an eternal fairy tale. Some level of frustration is important for her to learn to regulate herself emotionally, given that life is full of ups and downs, common in childhood and, even more so, in adult life.

Which psychological problems most often affect children?

The most common mental disorders in children are:

Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)

The autism is a neurological condition that impairs communication and social interaction, also featuring sensory difficulties. The child may not learn to speak, not be able to look into the eyes and have difficulties with touch, even the mother’s touch.

Anxiety disorders and specific phobias

The child may have high levels of anxiety and distress in situations that are not very threatening, such as when it rains, being in the dark, fear of harmless insects, among others. You may also have an exaggerated fear of being alone or without responsible people.

Depression

Childhood depression can manifest itself differently, with symptoms such as a lack of desire to play, to interact with friends, problems sleeping, stop eating, anger and increased reactivity, among others.

Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit is defined as the difficulty of keeping attention focused. Often, the child with attention deficit also has frequent agitation and irritability.

It is worth remembering that the diagnosis of ADHD in girls can be difficult, as they rarely show so many symptoms of hyperactivity, just a lack of concentration.

Intellectual disability

Also called “cognitive delay”, intellectual disability is a condition in which the child’s cognition does not develop as expected, presenting delays in relation to other children of the same age.

As a result, the child may experience delays in learning, difficulties with language acquisition, dependence on the father or mother for day-to-day activities, among others.

Oppositional-defiant disorder (TOD)

Oppositional-defiant disorder is characterized by a pattern of defiant and disobedient behavior, especially when it is directed at authority figures, such as teachers, caregivers and other adults.

Children with TOD often shout and argue with adults, exhibit high irritability and stubbornness, challenge and disregard rules and instructions, among others.

When do I need to seek psychological help?

Psychological assistance is welcome at different stages of life, but care must be taken with excessive pathologization. This means that not all worrying behavior indicates a serious disorder , not all sadness indicates depression, not all distress represents untreated anxiety.

Children can feel sad and that does not mean that there is something wrong with them – as long as that sadness is contextualized.

In other words, the child experiencing sadness due to an unpleasant event is appropriate, but when that sadness arises without any apparent reason and becomes constant, then responsible people need to seek help.

The signs of mental disorders in children can be different from the signs in adults, since they do not yet have the same knowledge of the world and can limit the expression of their feelings and thoughts.

Some signs that parents and caregivers should be aware of are:

  • Lack of desire to play;
  • Lack of desire to interact with friends;
  • Problems sleeping;
  • Aggressiveness and irritability;
  • Altered hunger (excess or lack);
  • Recurring nightmares;
  • Anguish disproportionate to situations;
  • Low school performance;
  • Leakage of urine and faeces even after thawing, especially at night.

Mental health in childhood is fundamental for children to grow up healthy, both physically, mentally, socially and emotionally.

In this sense, the whole family and society must work together, building harmonious and adequate environments.

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