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Help Children Have a Lifetime of Good Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s the ideal time to focus on the importance of helping children develop good mental health to last a lifetime.

By boosting your child’s social, emotional and behavioral development—or mental health—throughout their infant, childhood and teen years, you can put them on the path to excellent mental health.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is one of the most important parts of a child’s learning, well-being and general health. It includes factors such as:

  • How we think, feel, act and relate to others.
  • How we communicate and learn.
  • How we respond to the challenges of life.

Early Years Are Crucial

Mental health begins at birth. The first few years of a child’s life are critical in their social, emotional and behavioral development. During infant and early childhood, mental health is developed through a child’s ability to:

  • Experience, express and control emotions.
  • Form close, secure relationships.
  • Explore their environment and learn.

Watch this video to learn more about relationships and Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health:

Mental health issues are common among children under the age of 6. Studies show up to 10 percent of all young children have significant emotional and behavioral issues. A positive, nurturing relationship with a parent or caregiver can reduce the effects of adverse experiences. This foundation can reduce the risk of mental health challenges throughout life.

Learn more about the importance of the early years.

For more information on the importance of stressing mental health in young children, see kidcentral tn’s webpage on Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

Address Concerns Right Away

If as a parent or caretaker, you notice signs that your child might be suffering from a mental health issue, it’s crucial to get help as soon as possible. Studies show that the earlier a child’s mental or emotional issue is addressed, the better off the child’s mental health will be in the years ahead.

Contacting a health professional can help prevent a larger issue from developing. A good first step is discussing your concerns with your child’s pediatrician.

When children’s social, emotional and behavioral needs are met consistently, they are more likely to have good attendance and do well in school. They also are more likely to make good behavior choices in the future.

Watch this video on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health:

Boost Mental Health Throughout Childhood

Here are things parents, caretakers and community members can do to boost mental health in children, beginning at birth and through high school:

1. Promote and establish protective factors. Protective factors help people deal with stressful situations in their lives. It’s important to promote them in the lives of children.

One of the most important things a parent or caretaker can do is spend time with their child. Let the child know he or she is loved and has a purpose in life. Make sure children know they have people to count on if bad things do happen.

Learn more about what parents can do to promote protective factors in children and help build resilience in them.

2. Attend a mental health first aid training session. Youth Mental Health First Aid is an eight-hour public education program that introduces participants to the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents (ages 12-18). It also teaches individuals how to help an adolescent who may be experiencing a mental health challenge.

The course is designed for adults who regularly interact with adolescents (teachers, school staff, coaches, youth group leaders, parents, etc.). For more information, email Janet Watkins at Janet.Watkins@tn.gov.

3. Become a Certified Family Support Specialist (CFSS). Because of their life experience in caring for children with these disorders, Certified Family Support Specialists are able to use their experience to support others who have similar challenges. For more information, email Brenda Donaldson at Brenda.Donaldson@tn.gov.

Additional Resources

Learn more about mental health warning signs in children and adolescents.

Get more information about mental health resources.

For mental health questions or help finding local services, call the Helpline for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services at 800-560-5767.

If you think your child is experiencing a mental health crisis, contact crisis services for children. If you need crisis services at any time, call the statewide toll-free crisis hotline at: 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).