Mental health illnesses don’t discriminate, they can happen to anyone in diverse socioeconomic status, religions, race, ethnicity, gender, or AGE. Mental health is usually linked with teens and adults because at this age people have developed a higher self-awareness and emotional regulation. However, for children who are just coming to know the world around them can be difficult to express their struggles and emotions with words. This is why signs of mental health issues in childhood can be easily missed or dismissed as misbehaving.
Many mental health problems in adulthood could be consequence of unaddressed childhood mental health illness. Experiences lived through childhood are responsible for building psychological schemas. Schema refers to a cognitive map that contains patterns of thoughts and behaviors. This information is the framework of how we see the world, build relationships, build a value system and regulate emotions.
Symptoms of mental health illness in children can typically be observed in how they learn, speak, play, make friends, and how they express their emotions. Prolonged and frequent tantrums can be a way to express distress, confusion or frustration. At this stage where social skills are being developed is good to observe how children interact with others. Keep in mind the perspective of a child, experiences that might be small for adults can be meaningful for a kid. For example, think of a memory you have as a kid that left an impression with you. Did this experience influence your future behavior or do you still do particular things you learned as a child?
WHAT TREATMENTS ARE APPROPRIATE?
Every child is unique and uses different methods to process information and express emotions. Therefore, there are different styles of therapy that will help varied kind of symptoms and behaviors.
CHILD BEHAVIOR THERAPY
This commonly works best with kids exhibiting disruptive behavior disorder or ADHD. This style of therapy explores how problematic thoughts and behaviors may be “rewarded” in a child’s environment, most of the time unintentionally. Therapists work with children to encourage them to try new behaviors, reward them and decrease undesired behaviors. Therapist will likely talk to caregivers and teachers to implement a consequence system for different actions. For example, if a child is having trouble completing homework caregivers will give a reward every time after the child completes an assignment. As well as implement a consequence for not completing assignments. Therapist might also use modeling by demonstrating a more effective response to a negative event.
This style of therapy is commonly used with kids between 3-12 years old. Kids that benefit form this style of therapy might have learning disabilities, attention deficit, trauma history, domestic violence, grief, etc. Therapist will provide a safe and open environment where a kid will be able to freely expressed repressed thoughts and emotions through play. During a session the child is encouraged to play with toys designed to facilitate self-expression and positive behaviors. While the child is playing the therapist will observe behaviors and play with the child to note what kind of choices are made, how children interact, appropriate age behavior, or story telling.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY
CBT therapy works with people of all ages and experiencing a wide range on mental health problems. CBT can help children with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or behavioral disorders. This style of therapy works from the concept that every behavior starts with an emotion, and every emotion starts with a thought creating a cycle.
Therapist will work with children and caregivers to teach specific skills to improve emotional regulation and change maladaptive thoughts/behaviors
It is important to keep in mind most, if not all, styles of therapy for children require commitment and involvement of main caregivers. It is extremely beneficial for kids to apply at home what is learned during therapy. Parents might be encouraged to be part of the therapy session and/or attend parenting coaching. Challenging behaviors can be difficult to manage, and no kid comes with a handbook. Parenting coaching is a great tool for parents to learn how to help their child and how to help themselves when they feel lost or frustrated.