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Empathetically Supporting Childhood Mental Illnesses

January 09, 2022

Empathetically Supporting Childhood Mental Illnesses

Mental illness is a growing concern across the world. Before 2020, there was a mounting mental health crisis exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically for children, teens, and young adults, their social development was impacted by the abrupt shift to virtual learning to mitigate exposure during the pandemic. All we want as parents is for our children to have a loving home environment, a solid educational foundation, and healthy social skills with their friends. 

Unfortunately, the statistics show that 1 out 14 children suffer from an anxiety disorder. According to the CDC, 7.4% of children aged 3 to 17 years (about 4.5 million) in the United States have a diagnosed behavioral illness. Depression affects an estimated 3.2% of children (approximately 1.9 million) in this same age group. Furthermore, research indicates that one in every seven 10- to 19-year-olds worldwide suffers from a mental illness, accounting for 13% of this age group's global burden of disease. These figures illustrate the overall prevalence of mental health problems among children and adolescents, which has become its own 21st-century pandemic.

The statistics are very troubling, especially for such a young group. More unfortunate is that only a tiny percentage of these children actually receive the proper support and adequate treatment needed to cope with their encounters. 

As a parent with children affected by mental illnesses, you are not alone. We will take this journey together through this blog post to determine how to empathetically support our children. 

Mental Illness. What's That?

For starters, let's talk about what a mental illness is not. Mental illness does not mean your child is 'crazy,' 'bad,' 'dangerous,' or any of those other highly offensive words used to stigmatize mental illness. A mental illness should not be thought of as something that a person "has." People with mental illnesses have some form of imbalance or dysfunction in their brain chemistry. 

Mental health conditions may cause difficulty thinking, feeling, and in some cases, behavioral concerns. It affects one out of every five people in the US population. Statistically speaking, children with a mental illness are nearly four times more likely to feel anxious, hopeless, or suicidal. For this reason, parents, caregivers, educators, healthcare providers, and lawmakers nationwide are raising the alarm bells on the growing crisis. 

How Do I Know if My Child is Suffering From A Mental Illness?

Several signs may indicate if your child is struggling with a mental illness. Mental illnesses are often overlooked in children by both parents and healthcare providers. Mental health conditions that are not adequately addressed, nourished and treated as a child have the potential to worsen throughout a child's life.

If you notice your child experiencing any of the signs below, they may be suffering from a mental illness:

  • Excessive paranoia, worry, fear or anxiety
  • Unexplained, long-lasting sadness or irritability
  • Extreme changes in moods
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Showing a lack of interest in their everyday activities
  • Mentions that they no longer want to live
  • Shows anger or violent tendencies that are not age-appropriate, or
  • Any other behavior that seems unusual for the child

This list of possible symptoms is not all-inclusive. There are many different mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, Tourette syndrome, conduct disorder, and more. 

Early Intervention is Key. 

Due to the stigma associated with mental health conditions, many parents are reluctant to seek professional help for their children. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that if you notice any of these signs or symptoms with your children, you mention it to your pediatrician or seek the advice of mental health professionals. The earlier the concern is addressed, the better the chances your child will get the help they need to restore their joy, happiness, self-confidence, and more.

How Do I Help My Child?

As caring parents, we will always be concerned about our children's overall health and well-being. While optimism is advantageous, you can't just say "things will get better" or "pray about it, and it will go away." While religion and spirituality are essential foundations, they cannot be the only treatment expected. Parents and church leaders must join together to offer people the proper support and guidance regarding mental well-being.

A few practical ways of supporting childhood mental illness include:

Ask questions and be prepared to listen.

We are perceived as strong, brave, and sometimes superheroes to our children. We protect our children from seeing the woes that we experience, so it leaves them with the belief that life is supposed to be perfect. With this in mind, take the opportunity to bond with your child. Listen to their concerns, allow them to ask questions, and embrace transparency. For example, if your child experiences separation anxiety (fear of being away from you for long periods), ask them to explain what makes them afraid. This will allow you to talk through it and help them understand that they are safe, you are safe, and you'll reconnect with them soon. 

Validate your child's feelings.

This is perhaps one of the best ways to confront their fears. Unfortunately, some children are belittled, yelled at, told to stop being so sensitive, that they cry too much, and are made to believe their feelings are unusual. Educators are just as important to validate a child's feelings. Often, students who may be suffering from Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, and have behavioral symptoms, are labeled as 'bad' and subjected to harsh discipline, both at home and school. Children with ADHD are made to feel dumb, stupid, and annoying to educators who do not have the experience to support children with learning and executive function challenges. Executive function is a set of cognitive processes and mental skills that help individuals plan, monitor, and successfully execute their goals. These labels and experiences can affect a child's self-esteem and confidence if not adequately addressed. 

Model Healthy Behavior

Showing your child how to cope with their mental health challenges is key to helping them get comfortable with their treatment plan. If your child is going to try meditation and deep breathing, join in the fun and do it together. Strategies such as journaling can also be therapeutic, so you may decide to revisit your childhood days of writing in your favorite journal or diary.  

Another way you can model healthy behavior is to teach your children how their diet affects their mental well-being. We'll discuss this in more detail in future posts, but research shows a direct correlation between the brain and the gut. So, it is our responsibility as parents to build healthy routines and diets that help to support our children in every way. 

Teach them relaxation techniques.

Mindfulness and stress relief techniques can help children and teens with mental health challenges and encourage deep breathing. A few of our favorites include the following:

  • Our daughter's favorite is the Flower and the Candle Technique
    • Pretend you have a lovely smelling flower in one hand and a slow-burning candle in the other.
    • Breathe in slowly through your nose as you smell the flower.
    • Breathe out slowly through your mouth as you blow out the candle.
    • Repeat a few times.
  • Our sons enjoy the Turtle technique, which is an exercise that releases muscle tension.
    • Pretend you are a turtle going for a slow, relaxed turtle walk.
    • Oh no, it's started to rain!
    • Curl up tight under your shell for about ten seconds.
    • The sun's out again, so come out of your shell and return to your relaxing walk.
    • Repeat a few times, making sure to finish with a walk so that your body is relaxed.
  • And of course, I couldn't leave out my favorite (it's the inner child in me), which is the Lemon technique:
    • Pretend you have a lemon in your hand.
    • Reach up to the tree and pick a lemon with each hand.
    • Squeeze the lemons hard to get all the juice out – squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.
    • Throw the lemons on the floor and relax your hands.
    • Then repeat until you have enough juice for a glass of lemonade!
    • After your last squeeze and throw, shake out your hands to relax!

We also love to use LSW Mind Cards, which are available for both adults and kids. These cards really help us to practice mindfulness, by focusing on the present, practicing gratitude, and enjoying daily positive affirmations.  

As a parent, your ability to be patient, compassionate, and use kind words will go a long way to make your child feel relaxed and healthy. Both you and your children will enjoy the experience of relaxation techniques such as journaling, thinking peaceful thoughts, creating imaginary experiences they love, deep breathing, and listening to soft relaxation music (especially to fall asleep).

Connect with a professional. 

As a parent, you don't need to handle your child's mental health needs alone. A great first stop is with your child's pediatrician. Your pediatrician will conduct some assessments and refer your child to a psychologist or professional who can help them.

Final Thoughts

Your child's mental (brain) health is essential. As a parent, you would not ignore it if your child spiked a fever, faced a diagnosis of a chronic physical illness, or broke a limb. The same should be said about childhood mental health conditions. Although it may be unsettling at first, there is so much joy in helping your child find coping mechanisms that will help to bring them joy, peace and manage stress throughout their life. 

Sometimes it may not be noticeable to you if your child may be suffering, and that is okay too. You do not need to pretend to be a mental health professional. While it's inevitable that some children with mental illnesses will exhibit unpleasant traits, parents, guardians, and educators should take special care to support instead of condemning the child. As adults, we are responsible for being kind and empathetic with the children we are blessed to raise, support, educate, and uplift them in empowering ways.

Finally, mental illness is often misunderstood by those not directly affected. Those who are the most understanding have personally experienced mental health challenges themselves or have seen a friend or loved one go through it. The lack of knowledge and wisdom from people who haven't experienced it often leads to prejudice, discrimination, and isolation for those who are impacted. People must be aware of the warning signs of mental illness and know how to help those afflicted.

At Mon Amie's, our mission is to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions. We create inspirational designs and wellness products that are a positive daily reminder worldwide. We are proud to offer clothing for the body and inspiration for the mind! Our apparel, accessories, books, and other products are thoughtfully designed and selected to bring peace, tranquility, and happiness to those who we are blessed to support. 


At Mon Amie's Mental Wellness Solution, our mission is to improve mental health literacy and reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions. We provide on-demand digital training and in-person wellness training during workshops, conferences, and keynote speaking.

We also create inspirational designs and wellness merchandise that is a positive daily reminder to people worldwide.

Mon Amie’s Mental Wellness Solutions does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional. 


Data and Statistics on Children's Mental Health

Helping your Child with Mental Illness

How to Improve Your Child's Mental Health

Supporting Children's Mental Health: Tips for Parents and Educators

Mental Illness – Symptoms and Causes

What is ADHD

Five Signs Of Mental Illness

Health statistics on mental illness

Study finds sex differences in mental illness

Relaxation Activities to do at home with kids

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