Dr. Tonya D. Armstrong



Leveraging Hope to Launch Resilient Leaders

Circle of Children

One of my favorite songs performed by Yolanda Adams and written by BeBe Winans is entitled, “What About the Children?”  Find below the lyrics to the chorus of this thought-provoking song:

What about the children
To ignore is so easy
So many innocent children would choose the wrong way
So what about the children
Remember when we were children
And if not for those who loved us and who cared enough to show
Where would we be today?

Such questions are particularly pertinent now, as this is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is “Finding Help, Finding Hope.”  Additionally, May is Mental Health Month. With the carefree and fun-loving nature of many children, it can be easy to overlook the fact that over four million children and adolescents in the U.S. suffer from a mental illness yet only 20% are identified and receive treatment (NAMI, 2010).  Within Black communities, Black youth are more likely to be victims of violent crimes, which may be associated with higher levels of trauma (American Psychological Association, 2016; read full report at http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/minority/access.aspx). External parties are not the only threat: between grades 9 and 12, black youth are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016; full report may be accessed at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline).

Children challenged with mental disorders may experience symptoms such as changes in thought patterns, feelings, or behaviors; wetting or soiling themselves during the day or night; decline in school performance; frequent worrying or anxiety; and irregular sleep patterns or nightmares.  Any of these symptoms may be significant indicators of mental illness in children.  Diagnoses commonly found in children and adolescents include depression, bipolar and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and many others.

If your child or a child you love has been experiencing any of these symptoms for a period of days or weeks, s/he may benefit from seeing a pediatrician to determine whether there is a physiological basis to the symptom(s).  If your pediatrician determines that there is not a physical cause to these symptoms, you may seek consultation with a psychologist or other mental health professional to determine whether your child’s concerns are age-appropriate, or conversely, may benefit from individual and/or family psychotherapy.  Psychotherapy can be helpful for several reasons.  Children and teens can form a healthy, trusting relationship with a trained professional who provides objective, nonjudgmental listening and guidance.  Additionally, youth can gain important coping skills in the context of therapy to better handle their symptoms as well as other general stressors.  Moreover, families can learn new parenting, communication, and emotional regulation skills that assist the whole family in more effective functioning.

The advocacy of parents and other caring figures in a child’s life can be the most important lifeline for a child, especially because children typically express illness through somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches, stomachache, fatigue).  Let’s not stop with preventing or treating illness; instead, let’s focus on promoting mental health and wellness that improves over the lifetime of our young people.

You can promote good mental health in your child by:

  • Encouraging strong, positive, and nurturing relationships
  • Listening and respecting your child’s feelings
  • Maintaining contact with teachers, coaches, and other authority figures
  • Ensuring appropriate guidance and discipline and offer praise and support
  • Being a positive role model for communication
  • Referring your child to a mental health professional, particularly if their functioning at school and/or home is compromised. PsychologyToday.com has a helpful directory of mental health professionals that you can locate by ZIP code.
  • Having fun with your child!