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Children and Mental Health

Is this just a stage?

Raising a child can be challenging.  Even under the best circumstances, their behaviors and emotions can change frequently and rapidly. All children are sad, anxious, irritable, or aggressive at times, or they can occasionally find it challenging to sit still, pay attention, or interact with others. In most cases, they are just typical developmental phases. However, such behaviors may indicate a more serious problem in some children.

Mental disorders can begin in not only childhood, but in toddlers and even infancy. How can you tell the difference in what is typical and when you may need to be concerned?

In general, consider reaching out if your child’s behavior (s):

  • Persists for a few weeks or longer.
  • Causes distress for your child and/or your family.
  • Interferes with your child’s functioning at school (childcare), at home or with friends.
  • Limits the child’s participation in developmentally expected activities or routines.
  • Limits the family’s participation in everyday activities or routines.
  • Limits the young child’s ability to learn and develop new skills or interferes with developmental progress.

Young children may benefit from an evaluation and treatment if they:

  • Have frequent tantrums/meltdowns or are intensely irritable much of the time.
  • Often talk about fears or worries.
  • Complain about frequent stomachaches or headaches (with NO KNOWN medical cause).
  • Are in constant motion and cannot sit quietly.
  • Sleep too much or too little or have nightmares.

If your child’s behavior (s) is/are unsafe or if your child talks about wanting to hurt themselves or someone else, seek help immediately by contacting your pediatrician (examples include: hitting their head on hard objects, pulling their own hair or slapping/pinching/scratching themselves).

Learn more about warning signs on the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Child and Adolescent Mental Health Webpage.

By Leslie Stevens, LCMFT – Mental Health Specialist