Helping Your Child Cope With Anxiety and Depression

Teenage boy talking to

Watching your child struggle with anxiety or depression is one of the hardest things a parent can experience. Fellow parent and Stanford Medicine Children’s Health pediatrician Nivedita More, MD, of Bayside Medical Group – Fremont, offers ways to support your kids when they are dealing with mental health concerns.

Mental health struggles are common in children

Mental health disorders in children are very common, and according to the National Institutes of Health, the number is increasing.

“We approximate 13 to 20 percent of patients probably have some sort of mental health disorder at any given point in life,” Dr. More shared. “That’s a pretty high number. I mean, that’s like one in five or one in six kids.”

While we often associate depression and anxiety with older adolescents or adults, they can strike at any age. Dr. More advises parents to be mindful of the signs even in children as young as age 2 or 3.

“It really can appear at any age, honestly,” she said. “So, parents just need to keep an eye out for any changes in their child’s behavior or learning or how they play, how they talk, how they act, or even how they handle emotions at really any age.”

Signals your child may have a mental health concern

Pediatricians like Dr. More start screening for mental health concerns around age 12, but parents know their kids best. So, if you notice changes in your child’s behavior, it may be time to speak to your pediatrician.

“If a child is socially isolating themselves; this is a kid who was wanting to go out with friends or being social, and now they choose to stay away from them. They’re sad, lasting more than two or more weeks for no random reason,” she said. “Hurting themselves—if there is cutting or any kind of scratch marks on the forearms, if they feel like they’re hurting themselves in any way, those are definitely red flags.”

Any big changes in mood, behavior, or personality are all warning signs, Dr. More explained. Some things to watch out for:

  • Moodiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changing eating habits
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Trouble focusing
  • Falling grades

If your child starts talking about death or suicide, Dr. More urges parents to call the pediatrician right away.

How you can get help for your child

If you suspect that your child’s emotional well-being is at risk, the first thing on the list should be consulting with your family’s pediatrician.

“It’s best to bring it up to the pediatrician right away,” Dr. More said. “Our role is to make the diagnosis early, to intervene and offer all these treatment options with appropriate community resources for that child and their families early.”

Your pediatrician can refer your child to professional help. There are also school-based clinics and counselors available for children struggling with mental health disorders.

“Parents can also call their insurance or their workplace to look for professional help,” she said. “Some of the tech companies contract with psychologists. Since COVID, a lot of this has moved online. So, you don’t even have to take a child somewhere to get the help that they need anymore.”

Dr. More shared that many school districts in the area have access to Care Solace, which is free to the patients. Additionally, the state of California has recently launched CalHOPE, with two separate apps for digital mental health support via phone and chat line for residents of California. The suicide crisis line for emergent situations is 988 nationally.

Creating a safe environment for your child with anxiety or depression

Support at home is an important part of helping your child heal. Encourage open and honest conversations with your child about their feelings. Let them know that it’s OK to feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed at times, and you’re there to support them no matter what.

Just like asthma or diabetes, anxiety and depression in children need to be treated, Dr. More explained.

“Sometimes I feel families delay care because of the taboo that is prevalent with mental health disorders,” she said. “I really like to normalize mental health care by labeling it as a medical condition, just like a urine infection or pink eye or pneumonia or a fracture, for example, which can only get better with treatment.”

Dr. More also suggested that parents work with their kids to create a consistent routine at home. Having stability and knowing what to expect can go a long way toward helping a struggling child.

“The routines help. So, having timely meals, having a structure, same bedtime every night, making sure they get a good night’s sleep. Taking care of the devices, charging those outside their bedroom, making sure teens get at least eight hours of sleep. All of these help with the mental health concerns,” she explained.

Be patient and flexible in your approach, and above all, let your child know that they are loved and supported unconditionally.

“It’s a lifelong condition, so it’s like asthma. It has its good days, it has its bad days, you know. But there are all these tools that we can use to get these kids at a very young age to handle their emotions, handle their behavior in a general setting with their friends, with their families, moving forward,” Dr. More said. “There’s always going to be ups and downs, and that’s when they need to know how to get the help that they need. That’s most important.”

You can get more advice from Dr. More in these articles: What Parents Need to Know About Managing Teen Acne, Healthy Skin Habits for Your Family, and What to Know When Traveling With Kids During the Holidays.


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