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Supporting Your Child’s School Success

  • What kinds of developmental disorders or mental health challenges can affect young children?
  • What are the signs of mental health challeges in children?
  • How can I support my child’s mental health?
  • What should I do if I’m concerned about my child’s mental health?

Mental Health Challenges in Younger Children

Mental health is the general wellness of how we feel, think, and behave. There are many factors, both physical and environmental, that can affect mental health. The term mental health disorders refers to changes or disruptions in the way a child feels, thinks, or behaves that make it difficult for them to function at home, in school, or in other social situations. The Mayo Clinic website lists the following common mental health challenges  frequently affecting children —as well as developmental disorders that are usually diagnosed and/or treated by mental health professionals.
Anxiety disorders Excessive worry about everyday matters; persistent stress and/or fears that affect their ability to participate in school or enjoy everyday activities. Related diagnoses include social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD / ADHD) Difficulty with focus or attention, impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity or a combination of these problems
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) Neurological condition that usually appears in early childhood. The severity ranges, but a child with ASD often has difficulty making social connections and communicating and interacting with others.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Prolonged stress, anxiety, disturbing memories, nightmares and disruptive behaviors in response to violence, abuse, injury or other traumatic events.
Depression and mood disorders Persistent feelings of sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, and/or emptiness
Why It’s Important Mental health disorders can develop at any age and can be especially hard to identify in children because their behavior patterns naturally change as they develop over time, and because the symptoms often look different from those of adults. As a result, children may not get the right treatment when they need it. Knowing the factors that impact mental health and the warning signs and symptoms to watch for can help you recognize challenges early and take action to support your child’s wellbeing.

Check In:

Take this brief survey to learn the common warning signs of mental health / developmental disorders and how you can help your child.

The following lists some of the common warning signs of mental health or developmental issues in children. Warning signs will vary, depending on the child and the condition. Check any symptoms your child has experienced for two weeks or longer

  • Frequent outbursts, tantrums or extreme irritability
  • Out-of-control behavior that may be harmful to themselves or others
  • Frequent reports of behavior concerns or problems from the child’s teacher or other school staff
  • Changes in academic performance
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoiding or missing school
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
  • Drastic changes in mood, behavior or personality
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Loss of weight
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches


If you checked more than five behaviors, and they have been ongoing for longer than 2 weeks, your child may benefit from an initial evaluation by a doctor or mental health professional. Contact your child’s school counselor and/or your family’s healthcare provider to discuss your concerns. 


Connect & Communicate:

Spending time with your child, encouraging them to recognize and share how they are feeling, and being a calming, loving, caring connection will help them feel safe and reassured. This goes a long way to support their mental well-being.

Start the Conversation

Here are some ways you can begin talking to your child:

  • “I’m noticing that you are feeling sad / mad / frustrated. Would you like to talk about why you’re feeling that way? ”
  • “What do you think would help you feel calm right now? Do you need space? / Would you like to draw? Can you take some slow breaths with me?”

Your child may not know or be able to articulate what is causing them distress. Help them become aware of their feelings and any triggers. Let them know that it’s okay to feel and express their emotions, and that you are there to listen and help. 

  • Reassure your child and remind them of the many people in their life who love and care for them.
  • Normalize talking about emotions and emotional ups and downs. 
  • Find ways to relax, have fun, and strengthen your bond with them. Praise your child’s strengths and abilities.
  • Help your child focus on their physical health, too. Make sure they get enough sleep and exercise and are eating a balanced diet.  
  • Explore stress management techniques to support your child’s and your own mental health and help you respond calmly.


Watch the Disney Movie, Inside Out, with your child. Talk about the emotions they relate to. 

Read childrens’ books together about overcoming anxiety and other mental health challenges.

Contact & Collaborate:

Mental health challenges in children are common and treatable, either through therapy with a licensed counselor, medication, or a combination of both. Often, however, parents and caregivers don’t seek help for months or years. They may feel that, “It’s just a phase.” or “My child will grow out of it.”  

If your child seems unusually stressed, or if there’s been a major shift in their behavior that lasts over 2 weeks, it’s important to get support and take action as soon as possible. 

If you suspect that your child has a mental health / developmental disorder, 

  • Consult your primary care physician or health care provider and describe your concerns
  • Ask your child’s teacher, close friends, relatives or other caregivers if they’ve noticed changes in your child’s behavior. Share this information with your health care provider.
  • Set up a meeting with the counselor and/or behavior specialist at your child’s school. Partner with them to support your child’s needs. Depending on the circumtances, they may recommend additional referral for specialized support. 
  • Contact other trusted adults in your child’s life (relatives, clergy, teacher, sports coach) so they can help support him or her, too.
  • Consider family counseling with a licensed therapist. 
  • Reach out to your health insurance or state/county mental health authority for more support

Continue Learning:

You will play an important role in ongoing support and monitoring of your child’s mental health.

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