As parents, we need help to raise physically and mentally healthy kids. Sadly, about one out of every five American children develops a diagnosable mental health condition each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fortunately, there are natural ways to improve mental health in children. Here are recommendations from your pediatricians at Children’s Medical Center.
A Healthy Mind Starts with a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is critical to the healthy development of a young brain. Avoid giving children caffeine and large amounts of sugar, and instead offer them fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean meats for protein. Model good habits, too, by limiting alcohol intake, and of course, no smoking. Having routine mealtimes with the whole family encourages social interaction as well as a good diet, both of which are extremely important for good mental health.
Regulate Sleep Habits
Sleep is just as important for physical health as it is for mental health. Sleep deprivation can put anyone at risk for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression – and this includes children.
To encourage good sleeping habits in your children, establish bedtime rituals early on in life so kids get the restful sleep they need. Turn off screens an hour before bedtime, and make sure young children get at least eight hours of sleep nightly. Teens need even more–up to 10 hours.
Research has proved time and again that regular exercise has mental health benefits as well as physical benefits. Exercise releases “happy hormones” in the brain, such as endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins have anti-anxiety effects, and serotonin is important in regulating mood, to the point that studies have found those with depression have abnormally low levels of serotonin.
To make sure your children enjoy all the mental health benefits of exercise, it may be helpful to limit total screen time–including the computer, phone, TV, and video games. Get your children involved in sports they like, or engage in family walks, biking, and other outdoor activities. Exercise is also a helpful way to manage bursts of energy in children that have ADHD.
Talk (or Write) About Feelings
Encourage open communication with your kids. Focus on listening to your children’s problems and making sure they feel heard and not judged for the way they feel. Work together with your kids to find solutions to school and relationship problems. If a child is reluctant to talk much, provide a journal so they can write out their feelings and frustrations. Doing so can help them process their emotions even if they don’t want to talk about them.
Watch For Signs of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Even if you do everything you can to promote your child’s mental health, it is still possible that they can develop a mental health condition. In addition, if your child already has a mental health condition, it is important to know the signs that their condition may be getting worse. Here are some behaviors that indicate your child may not be doing well mentally:
- Falling grades, especially if they usually perform well
- Poor appetite or eating too much
- Listlessness or outbursts of anger
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Lack of interest in friends and activities they once enjoyed
- Talk of self-harm
If these symptoms last more than two weeks, make an appointment for a check-up with your pediatrician. Early intervention delivers the best long-term results, and the sooner the problem is diagnosed and treated, the sooner your child can start feeling better.
Children’s Mental Health Near Me – Mental Health Support at Children’s Medical Center
At Children’s Medical Center, our team of board-certified pediatricians takes children’s mental health seriously. Your child deserves personalized treatment for their mental health problems, and each of our pediatricians works hard to provide individual and effective treatment plans for each of their patients.
Don’t delay – call us at (727) 787-6335, or make an appointment through our patient portal. We have locations in Palm Harbor, Trinity, Westchase, and Lutz, FL, for your convenience. We look forward to treating your child and helping them feel their best, mentally and physically!