Some of the signs of potential mental illness in a child include Hyperactivity or restlessness, Lack of attention span, tension, anxiety, poor school performance, injury to self, temper tantrums, change in eating habits, use of drugs, to name a few.
Every parent wants a perfect child. And in fact, every child is perfect. But sometimes, as a parent we need to be aware of problems that may develop in our child so that we can keep our child safe from future trouble. Physical health is a much emphasized area of a child’s development. However, for a well rounded development of a child, mental health is equally important, and an often ignored aspect.
Read More: 11 Signs Your Toddler Should See a Therapist
Why is mental health or psychologic health important for my child?
Mental health or psychologic health of a child affects a child’s day to day behavior. Mentally or psychologically fit children are able to cope well with the stress of school and life in general. They also have good self esteem and confidence that allows them to function as useful members of the society. Alarmingly, high levels of media exposure and high paced life has led to increase in psychologic problems in children. As an informed parent, it is important to be aware of the possible tell tale signs of psychologic problems in children and to catch onto these signs as early as possible.
10 Warning Signs a Child Might Have Mental Illness
1. Hyperactivity or restlessness
Most children are playful and seek adventure. It is generally difficult to make a 2 or 3 year old focus on a single activity for a long time. However, focus and concentration skills improve with age. So, if your child is persistently fidgeting, unable to sit still, finds it difficult to wait for his/her turn and shows excessive physical movement, these may be signs of developing psychologic problems that require immediate attention.
2. Lack of attention span
If you notice that your child is lacking in attention in any way then it may be time to take notice. For example, a child may not be able to listen or carry out instructions, be forgetful of daily things and consistently making careless mistakes in school work. These may point to a psychologic problem that is beginning to take hold.
3. Tension and anxiety
If your child looks worried or nervous frequently, it may because he/she is experiencing anxiety related problems. These may have a physical impact also on a child’s body, making his/her heart beat faster, sleep problems, sweaty hands, sleep problems and headaches.
4. Poor school performance
If your child is suffering from persistently low school grades despite your best efforts, it could be because he/she is experiencing a psychologic problem. Try not to blame or punish your child, instead look for reasons why this is happening.
5. Risky behavior
If your child has started indulging in highly risky activities, such as running onto the street, or jumping from the roof frequently, or showing less concern about their or others’ safety. These may be reasons to look out for a developing psychologic problem.
6. Temper tantrums and disobedience
If your child shows frequent temper tantrums, crying, aggressive behavior and ‘acting-out’, it could be a warning sign of conduct disorders in the future.
7. Sadness or lack of interest
If your usually lively and happy child, shows lack of interest in day to day activities and playing with friends, it should be looked into. These could result due to depression and anxiety that the child is unable to express.
8. Change in eating habits
If your child stops eating drastically or conversely begins overeating, it should not be overlooked. Overeating could occur because of low self esteem and developing depression. Under-eating could be due to developing eating disorders, especially in girls.
9. Injury to self
Children are a vulnerable group and may not be able to express their emotions easily. Sometimes, children resort to self injury such as cutting or harming their body, as an outlet for their intense emotions. Such behavior must be taken seriously and help sought at the earliest.
10. Use of drugs or alcohol
Even young children have begun falling prey to harmful addictions such as drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with daily life challenges. At the slightest sign of such drug or alcohol abuse, such as staying out of the house for long hours, inability to focus on school work, change in friendships or hiding from adults, parents should be on high alert for signs of addiction.
At the slightest sign of concern for your child’s psychologic or mental health timely help must be sought out. Childhood psychologic problems tend to persist till adulthood. Parents are reluctant to address these problems because of fear and shame. Children are distressed and unable to express what they are going through. A parent is sometimes the only one who can recognize and seek help for a child. School counselors and help lines are readily available to aid these needs in children. Most importantly, your love and understanding can be a drastic help for a child who is battling with emotional and psychologic problems. Be a patient parent, not a critical one.
Sadly, unlike physical illness, psychologic problems are not easy to identify. However, armed with the right knowledge, you can, as a parent keep an alert eye on your child’s behavior. Recognizing a possible sign of psychologic illness can help you to seek immediate help from a child counselor and provide your child the gift of good psychologic health throughout life.