Depending on the professional with whom you speak, mental health can sometimes be referred to as emotional health or behavioral health. To me, they’re all the same. It’s hard to differentiate our cognitions (mental) from our emotions and our reactions (behaviors) because they are all interconnected and influence one another. What is happening in our environment impacts the way we think about ourselves and our surroundings, influences how we feel both physically and emotionally, and therefore causes us to react in our behavior. While emotions can oftentimes be recognized through non-verbal communication, we cannot read one another’s minds, and yet, the behaviors of children are oftentimes what gets the grownup’s attention. Challenging behaviors are usually why parents call us for support.
Because children are growing their abilities to communicate verbally, their emotional reactions and behaviors are a good look into what’s happening in their bodies. In fact, brains continue to grow until their early 20’s. This is why sometimes our adolescents act as impulsively and unpredictably as our toddlers. They’re trying their best to master the skills of stress management and emotional regulation with a brain that is not yet fully grown or has mastered these very skills! This is why it’s so wonderful that parents call us when they notice a change or concern in their child’s behavior – this can mean they need therapeutic support! In young children, signs could often include fearfulness, outbursts, tantrums, defiance, panic, loss of interest, “spacing out” (dissociation), or aggression. In teens, you could also
look for isolation, shutting down, irritability, nervousness, distraction, change in grades/performance, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, aggression, or tearfulness. Consider seeing your child’s behaviors as a look into their psyche – it’s a clue to what’s going on with them.
If you’ve noticed a change, even if it’s a challenging change in behavior, consider reaching out to see how we can support you!