This post was written by Amanda Wyatt, LCSW, Three Wishes therapist and clinical coordinator, Park Center, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute.
All children develop at different rates and in different ways. They are all unique in their emotional development. As early as infancy, most can experience and express emotions and feelings in individual ways. Additionally, it can be difficult to tell the difference between typical emotional development and issues when they arise. To help pinpoint the differences, let’s examine some of the general “red flags” that may signal if a child is experiencing mental or emotional problems.
What to look for
It’s important to remember the warning signs and red flags will vary for children of different ages. A great place to start is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) free developmental checklist, which gives caregivers an idea of where a child would be in their emotional development at any age. Parents and caregivers should also be aware that many children will experience some mental or emotional issues at some point. The key is knowing when to seek help. If these behaviors interfere with everyday life, not allowing them to function at home, school, with peers, or in other key areas, professional help may be necessary. A few red flags to watch for could include:
- Withdrawn behavior, not engaging with friends and family, or interacting in age-appropriate ways
- Not responding in an age-appropriate manner to comfort or nurturing
- Demonstrates anger and aggression that’s out of proportion to the situation and lasts longer than is appropriate for the child’s age or intense enough to present safety concerns
- Repeated nightmares or issues with falling and/or staying asleep
- Inability to express positive emotions such as happiness, excitement and joy
- Constant negative emotional states such as anger, sadness, fear or irritation
- Difficulty focusing, listening and paying attention
- Unexplained mood changes or intense feelings that overwhelm the child
- Talking about hurting oneself or others and attempting to do so
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches that are unexplained by a physical problem
- Changes in appetite or weight loss/gain
Actions to take if you are concerned
If your child shows any of the above warning signs or you are concerned for their mental and emotional health, please contact a medical professional or utilize any of the community resources available. They will provide support while helping you work through these issues. For example, Three Wishes is an early childhood program through Park Center that serves families and children ages six and younger. The program was created with the belief that every child has three wishes: to learn, to be safe and to be loved.
Three Wishes provides individual and family therapy, skill development services and case management to support children and families, assisting with managing their mental health needs and functioning appropriately within their communities. Three Wishes believes that children are resilient, strong and capable of amazing things, but early intervention can make all the difference in the long-run when a concern is identified.
To access Three Wishes services, please call Park Center at 260-481-2700 to schedule an assessment.