by Dustin W. Bogan, PA-C
We at Pediatric and Adolescent Health Partners have always put an emphasis on mental and emotional health, but why? Many parents often wonder why we have certain screenings in place for teenagers and children often wonder why we talk about the importance of down time when they are here for frequent headaches. I am hopeful that this discussion can help to shed some light on some of those common questions and also provide some tips for caring for your own mental health.
Recent research has linked a mental health disorder to 1 out of every 6 children, and suicide rates have increased 87 percent in the last 10 years making it the 2nd leading cause of death in teens. Researchers have identified specific risk factors, called “adverse childhood experiences” that in fact have a link to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and risky behaviors along with common psychological conditions. The identification of these factors allows pediatricians and other health care providers to provide necessary support and increase resilience in children. These approaches to emotional well being have the potential to be effective in the same way that vaccines prevent deadly diseases like whooping cough or rubella and how proper nutrition and activity can prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
So, how can you as a parent, teacher, or family friend best support the child in your life?
First, don’t forget that the best thing you can offer to children is love. With the many roles that children need to play, they often forget that others love and support them in their successes, as well as in their failures. It is definitely important to emphasize excellent school performance and push for your child’s best physical performance on the soccer field, but remember that children need to know that they will be okay if they do fail and you are the best person to help them learn from those failures.
Try to create a well structured home. We all know that children can fight discipline and structure, but they actually crave it. Having a schedule for the day, chores to complete, stable rules, and consistent expectations for your child can give them a purpose. They may require a little positive reinforcement to get things done, but they will grow fonder of the rules as they become a consistent part of their day.
Remember the importance of physical health for both you and your child. Young children learn by observing, and of course it is easier to care for others when you care for yourself. Exercise is an excellent way to relieve stress by creating endorphins and increasing overall body function. Emphasize plenty of sleep. Most children require at least 10 hours of sleep per day (a 24 hour period), whereas teenagers require 8 or more. Remember the importance of adequate hydration and a diet heavily focused on protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This improves focus, mood, and emotional regulation.
Attempt to find some form of stress outlet that can be utilized each day. I often encourage children to discover reading, music, art, or simply quiet time for 20-30 minutes per day. During this time, you can really focus on breathing. Breathing deeply in and out can allow your body to self-regulate and gradually this will lead to a calmer demeanor. Although we live in a very busy society, if you take time to relax on a regular basis, you can become more productive in your necessary activities. As always, reach out to your provider for more information and/or take a look at the resources below.
Pediatric mental health: https://www.mhanational.org/what-every-child-needs-good-mental-health?platform=hootsuite
To view some of our screenings: https://pahpartners.com/patient-forms/