Upton: Help protect your child's mental health

Upton: Help protect your child's mental health

May 14th, 2009 by Tabi Upton in Opinion Columns

A 16-year old struggles to break off a physically abusive relationship. A father faces the fact that his son's bipolar rages have become so intense that he will need to hospitalize him for a time. A mother realizes that due to lack of money, her only daughter will need to be placed in custody to receive the treatment she needs.

Working through the delicacies of a child's mental and emotional health issues is no small task. Though these examples thankfully are not the norm, they are not uncommon. Many families today face these challenges and more.

If you find yourself in a category similar to those listed above, rule No. 1 is: Do not panic. It is easy to become overwhelmed with feelings of unwarranted guilt, helplessness and fear when facing an unfamiliar or confusing situation. Pushing past these often paralyzing emotions, however, is essential to moving on to an active concern.

Second, determine to be persistent. Finding the right treatment facility, therapist and even social service to help your child often will require a process of trial and error.

Third, think holistically. Some children need to make friends to help themselves overcome feelings of sadness or being left out. Others need tutoring to help them settle down in school. All need good nutrition and a workable schedule to be productive throughout the day.

The best treatment in the world won't ever substitute for a love-filled and nurturing environment. Lastly, make sure you get support for yourself. Having a child with an emotional or behavioral challenge can feel pretty lonely. If you don't know of a support group in your area for families like yourself, consider creating one.

Here are some tips from Mental Health America that every parent should do daily to help their little ones feel great about life.

Communicate. Spend time daily talking, sharing feelings, and listening to your child.

Give children unconditional love. Children need to know that they can't earn love nor can their behavior cause love to be taken away.

Nurture children's confidence and self-esteem. Praise and encourage often. Teach that failure is also a part of life and not the end of the world.

Encourage children to play. Play helps children learn creativity, develop problemsolving skills and self-control, and get along with others.

Give appropriate guidance and discipline when necessary. Be firm, kind and realistic with your expectations. The goal is to help the child learn self-control.

Provide a safe and secure environment. Fear can be very real for a child. When your child is frightened, find out why. Respond by being loving, patient and reassuring but not critical.

You should seek help if you see the following signs in your child.

A decline in school performance.

Poor grades despite strong efforts. Constant worry or anxiety. Repeated refusal to go to school or to take part in normal activities. Hyperactivity or fidgeting. Persistent nightmares. Continuous or frequent aggression or "acting out." Continuous or frequent rebellion and/or temper tantrums.

Tabi Upton provides therapy to individuals and families at Richmont/CBI Counseling Center. E-mail her at tabiupton@ bellsouth.net.