As we observe Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 3 – 9), I take the time to ponder how fortunate we are that Rainbows’ leadership encourages, and fosters children’s positive mental health by supporting the development and growth of our Mental Health department.
Currently, our team holds 7 Mental Health Specialists, 3 Mental Health Assistants, and me – the Coordinator – Audra Kenneson. The services currently provided by our mental health professionals focus on a child’s ability to socially and emotionally connect to peers, loved ones, and caregivers. Generally, we look to a child’s behavior to indicate whether or not there are areas of concern in their social and emotional health. Other times, we find that we serve a child with issues of attachment, a child who lives in chronic pain, or a child with a diagnosis that would cause impulsive, often negative behaviors.
Research shows that the best way to change any negative behaviors in a child is to focus on their environment and their relationships with caregivers. That work can be with a parent – teaching the parent ways to respond to the child to help them connect in a way that will bring out the best behavior in the child. When we work in child care classrooms, we may focus on the set up of a room, the words teachers use when talking with children, or the classroom schedule. Much of our work with children is helping them learn how to use their words to express their emotions and how to calm themselves when they are upset. Whether we work with parents or teachers, we know that the majority of children respond positively to a regular schedule. Knowing what to expect helps our kiddos calm down and find their pace so that their minds are busy with creativity and play, instead of anxiety and frustration as they wonder what will happen next. We also know that when children receive specific and positive praise for appropriate behavior, they are more apt to repeat the behavior because they love the attention.
We encourage caregivers to use specific praise like “Ashley, you shared your doll with Annabelle! That’s what good friends do! They share! Nice job!” or “Thank you, Jason, for helping pick up the toys! When we pick up the toys, we are safe! You are helping keep us safe!” At Rainbows we are fortunate to have Mental Health services available for children birth through 5 years old, and these services are currently offered at no cost to families. We can provide support to parents by conducting assessments that will tell us what kind of services best meet the needs of their child. If the assessment indicates that we can meet their needs, we can help. If the assessment indicates that another service may be needed, we can help the family find the right service in the community to meet their needs.
If you are a parent who lives in Sedgwick County and you are concerned about your child’s behavior or social and emotional well-being, you can call me at 558.3420. We can talk about your concerns and I can tell you what we can do to help. This post was written by Audra Kenneson, LMSW, Mental Health Coordinator, read about Audra here.