Supporting Children with Mental Health Issues

Contributed by the Center for Child Protection

Children with mental health issues experience many difficulties, and their parents often struggle with how to support and help their child. But, with patience, acceptance, and knowledge, parents can become great allies and advocates, providing the support their kids need to cope with and overcome their mental health issues.

Mom hugging troubled son
  • Education is key.  Become educated about the mental health issues your child is experiencing. The more you know about what your child is experiencing, the better equipped you will be to support them and respond to them in a helpful and empathic manner.
  • Be consistent. Consistency and predictability are important for all children, however this is especially important for children who may have experienced trauma or who are experiencing mental health issues. Consistency will provide a sense of predictability and safety for your child.
  • Practice flexibility. Flexibility is important, it is important for your child to have consistent boundaries and rules however you may need to be more flexible in your response to your child if they are experiencing mental health difficulties. There often is not a one-size-fits-all approach. You may have to find what works best for your child.
  • Be nurturing. Children need to feel that you care for them even when they may be exhibiting some challenging behaviors. The most important thing you can do for your child is attempt to understand what they are feeling. This will help you be more empathic with your child and you will be better able to cultivate a nurturing and loving relationship between you and your child.
  • Accept your child's feelings. Accept your child's feelings and help them understand why it is they feel the way they do. Children process information differently than adults. While their behaviors and feelings may be confusing to you it is important to respond in a supportive manner rather than try to "fix" their feelings or correct them. You can tell them that you hear them and that you are sad they feel the way they do and you just want to help them feel better.
  • Advocate for your child. You will have to advocate for your child's needs. Your child may be in need of an array of assessments such as mental health and school assessments. It will be important that you make sure they are getting their needs met, this may mean you are researching resources and making phone calls to get more information. If you need help advocating for your child there may be mental health agencies in your area that can assist you with case management services.
  • Learn how trauma can impact development.  Make sure any assessments your child receives are developmentally sensitive. This is important in order for you to provide your child with the support they need in an age appropriate manner.  Because of their experiences your child's chronological age may not match their emotional or developmental age. It will be important for you to know where your child is functioning from a developmental stand point in order to provide the most appropriate and supportive responses.
  • Get support for yourself. Get help for yourself if needed. You cannot provide the support your child needs if you don't also take care of yourself. One of the most helpful things you can do for your child is to be present and attuned to their needs. This can only be accomplished if you are addressing your own stress and getting support for yourself.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, however if you can practice these helpful tips with your child, your child will feel better supported by you. Having a positive relationship with your child is key to assisting them in any struggles they may face in life.

Mental Health Issues can be a confusing and frustrating experience for parents, so make sure you look into extra assistance if you need help supporting your child and understanding what they need.

For More Information

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Center for Child Protection

About the Expert: The Center for Child Protection is a nationally accredited children's advocacy center and the only nonprofit organization in Travis County, Texas involved in the investigation of crimes against children. For more than 25 years, the Center has been the first stop for children in Travis County who are suspected victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect and for children who have witnessed a violent crime. The Center is a child-friendly, specially-equipped facility where children go for recorded forensic interviews, medical exams, counseling and intervention during the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases.

The Center's goal is to end the cycle of child abuse by supporting current victims of abuse and empowering them to break the cycle of abuse in their own lives, through timely, strategic, effective and evidence-based intervention with the Protective Parenting Program. Further, the Education Services Department trains professionals and other community members on how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child abuse if they have suspicions of abuse.

All Center for Child Protection services are provided to children, their protective caregivers and community members at no charge and are available in both English and Spanish.