The holiday season is here, and while it’s an exciting time filled with cheer, this season can also increase anxiety. During the holiday season, many families are out of their routines, and this might impact children’s sleep, mood, and behaviors.
Mental health concerns in children can manifest in different ways. Some become anxious or overwhelmed with daily tasks, while others may lose interest in favorite hobbies or activities. Recent studies show 1 in 5 children ages 3-17 have a mental health disorder.
Children’s Mercy Kansas City has seen a 67% increase in mental health referrals since 2017, with an estimated 40% to 50% of young people with mental health disorders going untreated in our region.
Your First Stop
If you feel overwhelmed by where to go, you have several ways you can get started:
- Talk to your child. Ask about friends, school, hobbies, etc. Remember that you don’t have to have all the answers as a parent. A lot of times children and teenagers benefit from their parent listening and validating their experiences without any type of intervention. However, you can ask your children or teenagers if they want your help problem-solving or seeking additional support.
- Talk with your child’s doctor. Record and share your observations with your child’s primary care provider. Things to mention include, but are not limited to:
o Behavioral changes: increased irritability, feeling overwhelmed, withdrawal from family or friends, isolation, increased need for sleep or lack of sleep, somatic complaints (e.g., headaches, stomachaches)
o Social changes: loss of interest in activities, withdrawal from family or friends, isolation
o School: sudden drop in academic performance, concern expressed by school professionals, frequent school absences
o Stressors: It is not uncommon for children and teens to develop negative emotions in response to stressful events (e.g., break up, death of a loved one, school testing). It’s helpful to let your medical provider know when you started noticing changes in your child or teen and whether you believe these changes are related to a specific event.
- Contact your insurance provider. Request a list of mental health providers available in your network, or look online for a provider guide.
- Keep learning. Technology, nutrition, relationships and many other areas can affect mental health. This video series provides insight on ways to help improve your child’s mental health and wellbeing.
Children’s Mercy Mental Health Toolkit
If you’re looking for resources on specific conditions, Children’s Mercy has a mental health toolkit outlining specific behavioral and mental health needs. Information is included on areas such as:
- Anxiety and depression
- Support and acceptance for kids who are neurodivergent
- Eating disorders
- Suicide prevention
- Parent coaching and mentoring programs
- Accommodations for kids with mental health or sensory needs
Take Care of Yourself, Too
Supporting your child’s mental health can be overwhelming. You can also begin experiencing your own mental health issues like anxiety and depression, or your stress might manifest in physical symptoms like headaches, insomnia or an upset stomach. In order for parents to support their child or teen best they also need to care for themselves.
Try these 5 tips to restore yourself so you’re at your best for you, and your family:
- Get moving. A few minutes of intentional movement several times throughout the day can be just as effective as one longer block of exercise.
- Eat for energy. Incorporate protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables into your diet. Nutrient-dense foods like these can help keep your energy up.
- Stay connected. It takes a village to raise children and teenagers. Relying on others, whether it be family members or professionals, can help alleviate stress associated with parenting.
- Rest when you can. Whenever possible, take the opportunity to rest in ways that are restorative for you, such as sleeping, reading or watching a favorite show.
- Turn your face toward the sun. Spending time outdoors, even if it’s just 5 minutes of fresh air, will positively affect your wellbeing.
If your child is making suicidal threats or actions, immediately call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by dialing 988 and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This resource is confidential.
Meredith Scafe, Ph.D. is a clinical child psychologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. She provides outpatient psychological evaluations and psychotherapy. Meredith has a variety of clinical experience that includes inpatient acute psychiatric treatment, integrated behavioral healthcare, and specialized training in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy and Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Her research interests include prevention and early intervention and clinical training aimed to improve patient and provider outcomes.