The surge of interest in mental health has focused primarily on adults, with issues around children’s mental health being overlooked. This is a problem, because according to the American Psychological Association, an estimated 15 million young people can currently be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced children out of schools and into homeschooling and caused financial distress for many families. These disruptions have led to a wide-scale decline in mental health among kids and have brought renewed attention to the need for mental health literacy for kids and caretakers.

Mental Health Disorders in Kids: What It Looks Like

Diagnosing mental health disorders in children isn’t always easy — in some cases, it can be difficult to distinguish between typical childhood behavior and behavior that is symptomatic of something more serious. In addition, the signs of mental health disorder may vary depending on a child’s age and personality. And finally, it’s important to remember that kids may lack the emotional literacy needed to describe their feelings.

While some degree of disruptive behavior and emotions is a normal part of growing up, experts at the National Institute of Mental Health recommend seeking help if a child’s behavior meets any of the following criteria:

  • The behavior persists for more than a few weeks.
  • The behavior causes distress for the child or other family members.
  • The behavior negatively affects the child’s ability to function normally at school, home or with friends.
  • The behavior presents a danger to anyone, including himself or herself.

Practical Ways to Help Kids Manage Their Mental Health

Seeing a therapist or child behavior expert is the best way for kids to work through mental health disorders. However, mental health starts at home, and there are numerous strategies parents can use to teach kids mental health principles. While methods will vary based on children’s personalities and preferences, the ideas listed below may provide a helpful starting point:

  • Be consistent. Consistency is important in making children feel secure. On a physical level, stick to a routine as much as possible; on an emotional level, make sure your interactions with your children are predictable and reflect your household’s values and rules.
  • Find coping mechanisms. As with adults, it’s crucial that kids develop technique or strategies to cope with stress. Try different activities or distractions (such as physical exercise, drawing or listening to music) to see what helps keep your kid calm and stick with those.
  • Communicate openly. Talking about your feelings and encouraging your children to express theirs is an excellent way to help kids build emotional literacy and healthy communication skills.

Key Club International has partnered with Erika’s Lighthouse to promote the importance of mental health for children and offer resources for students who may be struggling with their mental health. Erika’s Lighthouse provides educators, students and parents with the tools to talk about mental health and encourages students to reach out if they are struggling. Through our partnership, we aim to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and help children feel comfortable talking about it. Consider joining a Key Club today to meet new friends, find a new support system, help raise awareness for the importance of mental health and gain access to the valuable mental health resources that Erika’s Lighthouse offers through Kiwanis youth programs.