When Should You Worry About Your Child’s Behaviour?
How do you know when you should be worried about your child’s mental health?
There are lots of variations of “normal”, so it can be hard to know. And when you’ve been coping with a certain situation or behaviour for a while, it can start to feel normal over time, even if it’s not something that other people are experiencing. So how do we know when we should be worried about our child’s mental health, and what do we do next?
First of all, just how prevalent are mental health disorders in childhood? Well, the Centre For Addiction and Mental Health reports that 70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence. And mental health disorders affect 15-20% of Canadian kids. So that’s a lot of children who may be slipping through the cracks.
Here are some common symptoms to be alert for:
- changes in habits: eating, sleeping, socializing, studying, drop in marks at school
- excessive anxiety or fears, that keep the child from engaging in activities that most other kids his age do or that otherwise impact his daily functioning
- withdrawing from activities or other people
- irritability, anger outbursts, temper tantrums that seem “bigger” than a parent would expect for that age
- mood swings
- physical complaints such as stomach aches, headaches or generally not feeling well
- a change in what we might consider personality: not being as interested in previously enjoyed activities, a disregard for the feelings or property of others, disobedience or defiance, increased aggression
- increased drinking or drug use
- talking about suicide or hurting himself, or noticeable cuts or burns on arms, legs or torso
Look for how intense these symptoms are and how long they go on for. Consider family history and make sure you share those details with your family doctor.
Ask your child. See if he thinks that his behaviour has been a problem, or if he can share with you some of what he has been feeling or noticing. Depending on your child’s age, that might not be something he can do, but then again, kids often surprise us with their insight, so it’s worth at least starting a conversation. If nothing else comes of it, at least you’ve begun a dialogue that lets your child know that you see what’s happening, you’re concerned and you want to help.
And trust your instincts. No one wants their children to be unwell, but if you suspect that something other than simple growing pangs may be behind your child’s behaviour, don’t wait to get it checked out. It’s better to be sure; get a second (or third) opinion if the answers you’re getting just don’t seem to fit.