Guide To Addressing Your Children’s Behavioral Health
Most parents know that supporting their kiddos’ physical health is important, but too often their children’s behavioral health is forgotten. Many parents overlook their children’s behavioral health because they don’t truly understand how to support this aspect of a child’s development.
Fortunately, children’s mental health—or behavioral health as we prefer to call it—has received renewed focus in recent years. Many parents and professionals are talking about this critical component of their kiddos’ overall health.
Children with good behavioral health are more likely to think clearly, develop socially, and learn new behavioral skills. Parents who support their child’s behavioral health also increase the chance that their child will have healthy coping skills and mental well-being leading into and continuing through adulthood.
In this guide, we’ll go through the following:
- Children’s Mental/Behavioral Health Statistics
- What To Observe When Assessing Your Child’s Behavioral Health
- How To Support a Child with Mental Health Issues
- Behavioral Health Activities for Kids
- Mental Health Games for Kids
- Children’s Books About Mental Health
- Children’s Behavioral Health Services
- Children’s Behavioral Health Hospital & Clinic Locations
Children’s Mental Health Statistics
By thinking about your child’s behavioral health and reading through this guide, you’re already taking the first steps towards better childhood development and mental health. Unfortunately, some behavioral health problems cannot be avoided.
As the focus on children’s mental and behavioral health has increased, so has the number of behavioral health disorder diagnoses. These diagnoses and other statistics reveal that behavioral health in children is a much greater issue than previously thought.
A research study reported that one in every five children between the ages of 13 to 18 will develop one or several related mental health disorders in the years of adolescence.
Here is a breakdown of the most common types of mental disorders that are prevalent within this group:
- Mood disorder: 11%
- Conduct disorder: 10%
- Anxiety disorder: 8%
In today’s society, mental illness is prevalent among our youth population. When it comes to lifetime cases of mental illness, 50% of individuals are diagnosed with a disorder by the age of 14. This percentage skyrockets to 75% when adjusting the age to 24.
Another astonishing statistic is that 50% of students ages 14 years or younger will eventually drop out of high school due to their behavioral disorder. If that wasn’t enough, a soaring 70% of youths that are in juvenile justice systems have been diagnosed with a behavioral health disorder, whether it be post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or another diagnosis.
Here are additional statistics about children’s behavioral health that help give you a better perspective regarding the importance of a child’s behavioral health is to his or her development.
- 1 in 6 (17.4%) U.S. children aged 2-8 years old had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
- The percentage of children from ages 6-17 who were ever diagnosed with anxiety increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
- The pandemic exacerbated behavioral health issues in children, leading to a 24% increase in mental health-related emergency room visits of children ages 5-11 years old between March and October 2020, according to CDC data.
- Half of all U.S. children with mental health or behavioral health disorders did not receive necessary treatment or counseling from a mental health professional, according to a 2016 study summarized in an American Association of Family Physicians report.
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth aged 10 to 24 years old, and 90% of those who died by suicide had an underlying behavioral health disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
What To Observe When Assessing Your Child’s Behavioral Health
Behavioral disorders and issues manifest themselves in different ways for different people. These disorders often have a delay between the start of symptoms and intervention. However, for children, it can be more difficult to detect symptoms when they’re suffering from an underlying mental condition.
Knowing the signs of behavioral health issues is a must for parents. We suggest seeking assistance from a behavioral health provider at a qualified mental health center if your child or someone you love is displaying one or more of these signs.
Signs of Behavioral Health Issues in Children
Here are some child behaviors to observe.
- Changes in mood or severe mood swings
- Drug and alcohol substance abuse
- Changes in personality
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Major shifts in behavior
- Extreme difficulty in concentrating
- Strong feelings of worry or panic to the point that it interferes with everyday life
- Contemplating/planning/hurting oneself
- Experiencing thoughts of suicide
- Partaking in risky behaviors
- Sudden feelings of fear for no apparent reason. This can lead to physical symptoms, like a racing heartbeat.
- Loss of appetite, limiting diet to specific foods, or vomiting
- Using laxatives to lose weight or experiencing significant changes in weight
- Feeling depressed or reclusive for several weeks
Signs of Depression in Children
It’s normal for your child to feel sad or down occasionally. However, if these negative feelings last for more than two weeks or the behavior is preventing your child’s everyday activities and functions, it could be a sign of depression, which is necessary to address. Watch for these signs of depression in children.
- Socially withdrawn – Your child is uncharacteristically pulling back from friends and peers and turns inward.
- Lacking interest in favorite activities – Your child is staying away from activities he or she usually enjoys.
- Low self-esteem – Your child is avoiding new experiences and opportunities or talking down himself or herself.
- Unusual crying spells and sensitivity – Your child is crying or showing sensitivity to unusual circumstances.
- Self-harm – Your child is engaging in self-harm such as cutting, scratching, biting, headbanging, substance abuse, suicidal behavior, and more.
Read more about these signs of depression and how to help in our blog.
How To Support a Child with Mental Health Issues
If you suspect that your child is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, we highly advise you to seek help from a professional as soon as possible. Behavioral health professionals are trained to diagnose people, including children. They can put them on the path to eliminating the issue, alleviating the symptoms, or giving them coping mechanisms for living with the illness or disorder. Some professionals are able to prescribe medication if that is an appropriate solution.
If the issue is more of a long-term change in behavior, or if your child is exhibiting some of the above signs of behavioral health disorders or depression, you can take action by helping your child work through their issues.
Behavioral health in children can be improved through the building blocks that serve as the foundation of the children’s mental well-being, including but not limited to:
- Unconditional love from their family
- High self-confidence & self-esteem
- Opportunities to play with other children
- Encouraging relationships with teachers and supportive caretakers
- Safe & secure surroundings
- Appropriate guidance and discipline
Aside from therapy and prescribed medication, there are other ways to help your children cope with behavioral health issues.
Some options include natural remedies such as CBD, which has shown promise in helping kids with ADHD and anxiety, in addition to those who have rebellious tendencies that are not treatable by conventional medication. The key to supporting your child’s behavioral health is to make sure you’re paying attention and keeping your child’s behavioral development a priority.
Tips to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health & Well-being
- Converse. Talk with your child often. Be sure to constantly reinforce the fact that they can talk to you about anything and everything, even in their early childhood years!
- Love. Show your kids compassion and love every day. Always be there for them and show your support.
- Give praise. Your child needs to know that you are proud of them. Reinforce positive behaviors and affirm them often. Try to focus more on the positives than the negatives.
- Be patient. While this one can be tough at times, try your best to be patient with your little one (and your teenager, too). Don’t pressure them into growing up too fast or becoming someone that they are not.
- Rest. Help your child develop a routine of self-care, and build-in rest times. A lot of life is “go, go, go,” even in childhood. Set aside time to rest and refuel. This is important in preventing overall health problems affecting physical and mental health.
- Listen. Try not to be distracted when your child is speaking to you. It is hard for adults and teenagers alike to put down their phone, but it is important to give your child undivided attention when they are talking to you about something important.
Throughout a child’s life, the aspect of trust must be established and constantly reinforced by the parent.
- Keep safe. Your child’s environment is so important. Parents can provide behavioral health resources by doing their best to foster a supportive and safe environment where kids feel free to be themselves.
Allow them to make mistakes, get back up, and try again while they are still shielded from many of the consequences of adulthood. Kids need parents to be their safe space where they can truly let their guard down.
- Reinforce discipline, not punishments. The root word of discipline is “disciple,” which means “to teach.” Our goal in correcting our young children should be to teach them what natural consequences are and how to fix mistakes and stand back up when they fall.
A child’s behavior can eventually become compromised if they do not feel as though they can recover from any mistake now and in the future.
- Destigmatize asking for help. It’s okay to not know everything. Also, model this yourself. Allow your kids to see you ask for help when you need it.
Along those same lines, if you feel like your child’s behavioral health (or yours) is at risk, do not hesitate to seek help from a health professional.
- Teach and model problem-solving. While it may be tempting to step in and fix every problem for your child, teen, or young adult, helping them troubleshoot and face natural consequences will build their confidence and their ability in the long run.
Children need to know that they can overcome challenges and accomplish goals through their actions.
- Teach how to cope. Coping skills are so important. Help your child develop healthy coping skills when they are upset, tired, angry or afraid. While our body’s natural response is “fight, flight, or freeze,” we can teach our kids to practice mindfulness, relaxation, grounding, deep breaths, self-affirmations, and other healthy ways to cope with life’s stressors.
- Identify emotions. When your child has the ability to identify their emotions and describe how they are feeling, they are more quickly able to respond to their body’s cues and take a step back before reacting.
This can start in early toddlerhood, by using reflections: “I can see that you are sad right now,” or “It looks like you are mad because you couldn’t have that toy.” When kids are able to verbalize, “I’m sad” or “I’m scared,” it does wonders for their behavioral health (and builds their relationship with you).
- Be attentive. Begin by taking notice of your children’s moods, behaviors, and emotions. If you notice something is off, check in with them. Ask how they are feeling, what they need, and how you can help.
This tip is especially helpful if you are trying to identify any behavioral issues or mental health problems within your child.
- Encourage community involvement. If your child has healthy relationships, it is more likely they will be able to do well and thrive. Connect them with a recreation center, sports team, art club, church or youth group, or other events in your neighborhood that have positive influences.
- Teach about loss. Help your child to understand that stress, loss, and grief are normal emotions we all go through in life, and that “it’s okay to feel sad.”
- Seek opportunities to help others. Provide opportunities for your child to recognize that they can make a difference in the lives of those around them. When kids help others, they realize that their place in this world is important and they gain a sense of purpose.
Volunteer together as a family or encourage community service. Even just helping out your neighbors in need can help provide youth access to opportunities that support mental health.
- Read. Read children’s books that talk about behavioral health, emotions, mindfulness, and wellbeing. Often, children’s authors approach this topic in a way that makes it easy for kids to understand!
- Deal with conflict constructively. When children grow up in a household that allows minor conflicts to escalate and linger, or one that avoids conflict altogether, they do not learn the necessary conflict resolution skills for future relationships and other areas of their lives. Sometimes, a mediator or a family therapist is necessary. Show your child that it’s okay to seek outside help and support when needed.
- Create & maintain routines. Stable routines create a consistent environment that can help your child feel safe.
- Take care of yourself. If your mental health is stable as a parent, it is more likely that your kids will thrive as well. Also, by modeling self-care and well-being, you are setting an example for your kids to follow, right in their own home.
How To Explain Anxiety & Mental Health To Kids
Anxiety is one of the most common manifestations of negative behavioral health. For children, anxiety can be a thought or feeling that may feel scary, but may not necessarily be hurtful—in some situations, anxiety helps to illuminate danger or personal stress. Anxiety is a normal human feeling that everyone experiences.
However, frequent and troubling anxiety that doesn’t seem normal can indicate or result in negative behavioral health outcomes. Explaining anxiety to kids in an easy-to-understand way can allow your children to identify their own anxiety and learn how best to deal with it.
- Encourage openness.
- Help your child recognize their own mental & physical anxiety.
- Teach your children coping mechanisms, including drinking cold water, imagining a safe space, and breathing in and out.
Learn more about how to explain anxiety to kids in our blog.
How To Help a Child With Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is a type of anxiety that can prohibit your child from forming healthy relationships. It usually manifests as the intense fear of being judged and perceived by other people. This could happen as a result of bullying, abuse, unhealthy parenting styles, or past traumatic or stressful situations.
Some symptoms of this anxiety include nausea, trembling, rapid heartbeat, sweating, excessive worrying and overthinking, and full-blown panic attacks. Learn more about social anxiety in our blog.
Help your children deal with social anxiety by:
- Teaching them about social anxiety
- Considering therapy for them
- Rewarding progress they make in reducing social anxiety
Building Self-esteem in Children
Helping your children develop good self-esteem and a positive image of themselves is vital to preventing behavioral health issues during childhood and adulthood. Here are a few things you can do to help them build self-esteem.
- Avoid overpraising. While it may initially seem counterintuitive, overpraising can lead to feelings of perfection that could harm your child’s self-esteem when they realize that perfection isn’t attainable.
- Celebrate their efforts. Focusing on the time and effort your children put toward an accomplishment, instead of the accomplishment itself, can create more drive and motivation.
- Encourage a positive inner dialogue. Teaching your kids that staying positive and telling yourself positive statements builds a healthy inner dialogue that can help them work through difficult situations toward a positive outcome.
- Give them freedom of decisions. Making decisions can lead to anxiety, but giving them the freedom to solve problems and make decisions on their own will help them develop initiative and self-confidence.
- Give age-appropriate household tasks. Feelings of responsibility and accomplishment of tasks have a significant positive effect on children’s confidence, especially when they are relied on and come through for the ones they love.
Read more about how to build self-esteem in children in our blog.
Behavioral Health Activities For Kids
Kids are sponges, and activities that are geared towards improving a child’s mental and behavioral well-being can help them develop a positive image of themselves. They can also improve social interaction skills and set a foundation for positive behavioral health as they grow into adulthood.
Here are some behavioral health activities for kids that can help their cognitive functions while improving self-esteem and other behavioral health measures.
- Make a gratitude journal – A gratitude journal reinforces the concept of thankfulness for kids, which gets children thinking about positive things and building mindfulness.
- Work on a painting, drawing, or coloring book – The visual creativity of art stimulates specific areas of the brain that can aid in behavioral health. Formal art therapy sessions are a good option.
- Listen to music – Research suggests that music of many genres has a calming effect that relieves anxiety, which is why many medical professionals use it during operative procedures.
- Create music or learn & practice an instrument – Learning, practicing, and creating music is linked to better behavioral health growth and outcomes and is a great example of mental health activities for kids.
- Play games with the family – Whether it’s a board game like ‘The Talking, Feeling and Doing Game,’ or an obstacle course in the backyard, playing games with loved ones develops stronger relationships, which help during times of emotional crises for children.
- Do active or breathing yoga – Yoga is a centuries-old technique of using body motions or breathing to calm the practitioner. While yoga positions (called “hatha yoga”) can reduce stress and anxiety through body motions, yoga breathing exercises (called “pranayam”) can also calm restless minds.
- Participate in extracurricular activities and sports – Movement and exercise engages kids’ minds and can teach them how to positively deal with stressful thoughts that may have depressive tendencies.
Mental Health Games for Kids
Games are great activities to tune, boost, or heal children’s behavioral health because they often require physical input paired with cognitive decision-making. Called “play therapy,” here are some types of games that can support and improve a child’s behavioral health.
- Board games – When played with family or friends, board games teach social interaction while also improving children’s mental and behavioral skills.
- Video games – While in most cases your child shouldn’t play video games for excessive amounts of time, video games offer immersive experiences and opportunities for children to express themselves beyond the physical world around them.
- Smartphone and tablet apps – Developers are continuously coming out with mental health and behavioral health apps for kids. One example of this is the “Mightier” app, which uses video games and a heart rate monitor to help kids identify emotions and limit anxiety. There are many thinking and meditation apps that may aid in developing your child’s behavioral health.
Behavioral Health Books for Kids
Books open up countless worlds to kids in which they can learn behavioral health lessons such as how to deal with loss, how to calm down, and how to deal with negative feelings. Check out this list of books for your child for teaching these important lessons.
- “Angry Octopus: A Relaxation Story” by Lori Lite
- “My Many Colored Days” by Dr. Seuss
- “How Big Are Your Worries Little Bear?” by Jayneen Sanders
- “Everybody Feels Fear” by Ashwin Chacko
- “The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath” by Susan Verde
Children’s Behavioral Health Services
If you feel the need for professional behavioral health assistance for your child, Children’s Bureau provides vital behavioral health services at several of our locations.
- Comprehensive assessment of child behavior
- Child abuse therapy
- Family-focused therapy
- Individual counseling
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Group therapy
Children’s Behavioral Health Hospital & Clinic Locations
Here are the medical clinics, hospitals, and treatment centers in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.
Children’s Bureau Behavioral Health Locations
- Lancaster: 921 W Ave J Suite C Lancaster, CA 93534; (661) 949-0131
- Valencia: 27200 Tourney Rd Suite 175 Santa Clarita, CA 91355; (661) 705-4670
- Palmdale: 1529 E Palmdale Blvd Suite 210/200 Palmdale, CA 93550; (661) 272-9996
- Magnolia: 1910 Magnolia Ave Los Angeles, CA 90007; (213) 342-0100
- Long Beach: 850 E Wardlow Rd Long Beach, CA 90813; (562) 981-9392
- West Covina: 1515 W Cameron Ave Suite 350 West Covina, CA 91790; (626) 337-8811
Hospitals for Children’s Behavioral Health in Los Angeles County
- Eisner Health: 530 S. Olive St., Los Angeles, CA 90015; (213) 747-5542
- Violence Intervention Program Community Mental Health Center: 1721 Griffin Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90031; (323) 221-4134
- Harbor-UCLA Medical Center: 1000 W. Carson St., Torrance, CA 90502; (424) 306-7270
- High Desert Regional Health Center: 335 E. Avenue I, Lancaster, CA 93535; (661) 471-4055
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center: 1670 E. 120th St., Los Angeles CA 90059; (424) 338-2900
- LAC+USC Medical Center: 2051 Marengo St., Los Angeles, CA 90033; (323) 409-3800 / (323) 409-5086
- East San Gabriel Valley: 1359 N Grand Ave, Covina, CA 91724; (626) 434-7000
- Olive View-UCLA Medical Center: 14659 Olive View Dr., Sylmar CA 91342; (747) 210-4680
- Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles: 3250 Wilshire Blvd., Suites 3, 5, & 6, Los Angeles, CA 90010; (323) 361-5156 (Ask for Intake)
- Exodus Urgent Care Center: 1920 Marengo Street Los Angeles, CA 90033; (323) 276-6400
Taking the Next Step
At Children’s Bureau, our mental health services strive to help children and families decrease the chances of violence and outbursts within a home setting. We strive to give parents the resources they need to help a child who is suffering from a behavioral issue.
At Children’s Bureau, we offer case management assistance, behavioral health services, medication management, and intensive day treatment programs. Above all, we provide assistance to parents and caregivers on how to manage these situations and provide support for their children.
We want all families to feel accepted and welcomed when seeking assistance. That’s why all of our counseling services are culturally sensitive and inclusive. We take all of our services and alter them on a case-by-case basis. That way, each family unit can receive the targeted guidance they need.