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Mental health

A mother is calming down an aggressive child.

A school-age child requires encouragement, support and care from their family. All these support for the child’s mind and build their well-being. Children’s minds are susceptible to illness, just as adults’ are. If this is the case, you may notice some symptoms in your child’s behaviour, such as aggressiveness, sadness or problems with eating. 

It is good to intervene in any mental issues as soon as possible so that their progression can be prevented. It is often easier to heal the symptoms during the early stages and the healing process will be quicker. Therefore, you should not hesitate to seek help and support. 

If it is difficult for the child to talk about what is on their mind, you can, for example, give them a what concerns me form (in Finnish) or encourage them to call the child and youth phone service of the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare.

Mental Hub also has a section for parents, Lasten mielenterveystalo (Children’s Mental Hub). There you can find the Huolinavigaattori service, which will help you find suitable help or support for your child’s or family’s problem (only in Finnish for the time being). 

Huolinavigaattori, ‘the worry navigator’, features information about many various concerns. Next, you need to assess how serious the problem is. Finally, Huolinavigaattori will tell you what is the best place for you to find help.

Unfortunately, the page is only available in Finnish. However, here are a few translated examples of the content of Huolinavigaattori.

Anxiety

Fear and anxiety are normal and familiar feelings for people of all ages. Common to both is that we expect something bad to happen and our body is prepared to act against this threat. Fear has a certain subject that starts the fear reaction. Frightening situations and matters include high or narrow spaces, the dark, and different animals, for example. The purpose of fear is to help us identify potentially dangerous situations, survive and stay safe.

Anxiety is caused by an undefined feeling that something bad is about to happen.

When working to overcome fears, it has been noted that facing the subject of the fear together with a safe person often helps. Fears that affect your everyday life are called phobias. Professional help should be sought if the fears stop you from doing everyday things and you no longer have the means to cope with them.

The most common anxiety disorders in children are separation anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder.

Crises

Childhood and the teenage years are periods that include major physical and psychological growth. Growth also causes various changes as well as small and major crises and concerns. A crisis can occur due to a change in a person’s life, such as parents’ divorce, losing a loved one, starting daycare or school, moving, etc. All these, however, are part of normal life and they create an important basis for growing up. It is normal also for children to be stressed, and even short periods of mental suffering are normal during difficult life situations. However, there may be a cause for concern and help should perhaps be sough if the stress or suffering becomes long-term and starts to affect everyday life in several respects. There are excellent treatment methods available for all symptoms, and the prognosis for beating them is good.

Restlessness

It is natural for a child to move around. Not all restlessness in children are strange. There may be many reasons for a child’s restlessness. Restlessness can be stress-based, for example as a consequence of the family’s busy everyday life where the child is constantly exposed to various stimuli.

Typical symptoms of restlessness include lack of self-control, impatience, moodiness, inability to adapt socially and motor restlessness. A child’s restless behaviour can also indicate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. In such cases the child will also often have problems with attentiveness and impulsiveness.

  • A regular and safe day-to-day life helps alleviate children’s restlessness. The family should have a regular day-to-day rhythm, where parents should ensure, in particular, that the child sleeps enough and eats regularly. Consistent rules, to which all family members adhere, are also important.
  • A restless child can also benefit from sufficient exercise and other opportunities to use their energy in an appropriate manner.
  • It is recommended that the parents also limit the computer or video gaming time of a restless child.
  • Positive feedback and reinforcing children’s positive characteristics is especially important in the case of restless children, as they have many limitations placed on them and are often reprimanded.
  • If a child’s restlessness affects their everyday life, learning at school or group activities and if it has been occurring for a while, it is recommended that you seek professional help from a child health clinic, doctor, school psychologist or welfare officer or a Family Counselling Office in order to review the situation.

ADHD – Current Care Guidelines Duodecim (in Finnish)

Restless Child – Terveyskirjasto Duodecim (in Finnish)

Challenges in learning – Vanhempainnetti Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (in Finnish)

Depression

Melancholy and sadness from time to time are part of normal life. Temporary feelings of sadness are quite normal in situations where a child faces disappointments, failures or losses. When sadness becomes more long-term and deeper, occurs during several days of the week and also includes other symptoms (such as withdrawing, inability to experience pleasure, various aches and pains, sleeping disorders, changes in appetite, problems with concentration, and irritability) as well as problems with dealing with day-to-day matters, it could be a sign of depression.

The child may no longer be happy and might act like nothing matters anymore. In children, depression can sometimes present as irritability rather than sadness. Depression often includes various physical problems, such as stomach pains, headaches or other pains. At school age, a depressed child may withdraw socially and the problems with concentration often affect schooling. Perhaps the child no longer keeps in touch with their friends or they seem disinterested in their hobbies. The child may have some problems with sleeping and their appetite may change: often it is poor, but in could also increase, and weight fluctuates. The child may constantly be worried about their own body of have some physical symptoms, such as stomach pains, headaches or other non-specific pains. Children’s depressive states can also include self-destructive thoughts and self-harm.

If you notice that your child has been feeling sad for some time, you can bring this up with the child. For example, you can say to the child “you have seemed a bit sad lately. Is there something you would like to talk about? Maybe we could do something about it together?” Bringing matters up will not make the depression worse. Instead, it is often a relief to the child to see that others have noticed they are not feeling well and understand the child. If a friend notices some changes in the child or their actions and is worried about their friend, it is important that they bring this up with an adult.

Depression and mood disorders in children and young people – Terveyskirjasto (in Finnish)

Moodiness

A child’s ability to control their emotions will continue developing until they reach adulthood. Processing negative feelings, such as anger, shame and disappointment, require practice with the support of an adult. Due to the incompleteness of their emotional control skills, children’s moods fluctuate, especially in the case of children at an obstinate age or pre-schoolers. Moodiness is often also part of puberty.

Abnormal emotional fluctuations can be a symptom of depression or bipolar disorder. It is good to keep in mind that depression in pre-schoolers and school-age children may present as irritability. Bipolar disorder is a possibility especially if any of the child’s close family members suffer from this disorder and if their moods fluctuate strongly and frequently.

ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, can also make emotional control more difficult and slow down its development. With ADHD, the child’s impulsivity can also seem like emotional fluctuation. With regard to children nearing puberty, it is good to keep in mind that experimenting with intoxicants and intoxicant use may cause moodiness.

Problems with Internet use and digital gaming

The Internet primarily provides people with information, recreational activities and entertainment. It is essential tool for many, and for school pupils, the Internet is an excellent source of information. Youth councillors working online, online public health nurses, online police and other safe adults are a part of many children’s security network.

Various online games, as well as console games, are interesting forms of entertainment and can bring joy to many children’s life. Online games can offer excitement, challenges, experiences of success and friends, as many games are played together with others. However, sometimes gaming and staying online can take up such a large part of the day that there is no time or energy left for anything else. In such instances the child may have become addicted to gaming or the Internet. Parents can often be concerned about their child’s gaming and it is good to think about what is reasonable. According to general recommendation, school-age children should be allowed to spend no more than two hours watching TV or playing on their computers and mobile devices.

There are some disadvantages related to excessive gaming and online activities. They can present as physical symptoms, such as tiredness or sleeplessness. A child may play late into the night, after which getting up and going to school can be difficult. Long-term sleep deprivation may predispose the child to depression. Other symptoms include tired eyes and problems or pains in the wrists, elbow, back or neck. Excessive gaming and time spent online can also have an effect on the child’s social life, if the child becomes immersed in the world of games and leaves no time for family or friends. Arguments about how the child spends their time may grow stronger and their schooling and daily rhythm can suffer.

Gaming and surfing the web both bring a great deal of pleasure, which means that they are also very addictive. Some symptoms of excessive gaming include person concerned losing their sense of time during gaming for a long period, an increasing need to game more and more, neglecting friends and hobbies outside of gaming, not having time for the family or school, gaming causing feelings of guilt, and lying about gaming. If the child themselves starts to see their gaming or surfing as excessive, it is time to think about their gaming.

Excessive surfing and gaming can also be a way to cope with or hide from other problems. Other issues related to the child’s life, such as loneliness, bullying or problems at school or in the family may be behind the gaming problem. A child may look for comfort in gaming and escape from difficult situations into games.

Relationships with friends and family, a safe close environment, hobbies, reinforcing social skills and self-esteem as well as telling the child about the disadvantages of gaming can all protect the child from developing a gaming addiction. Additionally, one of the most important protective factors is having a balanced day-to-day life, and it is an important duty of the adult(s) in the child’s life to set the necessary boundaries and support the child’s everyday life. It is the duty of parents and other educators to set clear limits to gaming. Even though the child may have an important and even close network of gaming friends through the games, every child still needs real human contact, and it is good to support and encourage the child to make friends. The adult’s job is to provide security and consistency through day-to-day routines. A child can also maintain the balance in their life by themselves.

Children should talk about their gaming and online life with their parents or other adults. It is also important for the parents to bring up the topic gaming with the child.

Pelitaito site (in Finnish)

The Game Educator’s Handbook (in Finnish)

Problems related to eating

Many kinds of eating problems are normal for children during different age stages. A child may eat too little or too much or be very picky. Children may feel fear or anxiety during meal times due to bad experiences, for example painful procedures, allergies or accidentally inhaled food. Everyday matters are reflected in appetite and eating may become a tool to manage concerns and sadness.

Sometimes, a child may be unhappy about their body and appearance and become worried about gaining weight. At times, friendship groups at school or online may even compete over who eats the least, whose muscles are most visible or who is the slimmest. Some sports also may have strict demands for appearance and weight. For some, these kinds of things may even trigger a dangerous eating disorder that starts to endanger growth and development. There are several different eating disorders and both girls and boys can suffer from them.

Eating disorders may not always be visible, but they may cause the child to feel very bad or unwell; they may experience anxiety, sadness, depression and irritability and may wish to be left alone. Concentration may be difficult, they may feel woozy or suffer from headaches. Insufficient nutrition can damage the heart, liver and kidneys. For girls, eating disorders may disrupt their menstrual cycle. Nails and hair become more brittle, and throwing up causes enamel damage to teeth. Excessive vomiting may also cause swelling of the salivary glands. Breathing and the pulse slow down, blood pressure drops, all bodily functions slow down and the sufferer feels permanently cold.

Anorexia

Anorexia is the term used when a person starts to fear gaining weight and feels like they are too fat, even when they are not. This disorder usually starts with attempted weight loss, which may spiral into a cycle of food restriction and excessive exercising. Some patients also regurgitate food they have eaten. They may not feel hunger and have a distorted view of themselves. Sufferers may start to withdraw, even from pleasant activities, and drop out of events, especially if eating is involved.

Bulimia

A person suffering from bulimia may binge eat even quite large meals at a time. They may feel like they are not in control of their eating. This binge eating is often followed by regret and the desire to stop gaining weight by purging the food through vomiting, through exercise or by using laxatives.

Binge eating disorder

People suffering from binge eating disorder eat large quantities of food within a short time, even if they are not hungry. People usually binge while they are alone, as the large quantities of food make them feel ashamed. Purging is not part of a binge eating disorder.

How can I help as a parent?

There is no one single reason for an eating disorder, and it is not something a person chooses. Through their own example, a parent may teach the child about having an accepting attitude towards their body and size, and, in general, a positive and empathetic attitude towards themselves. The important thing is to help the child see themselves as a good and valuable person. The family’s healthy eating habits also support a normal attitude towards food.

Children’s concerns about their own body and appearance

Putting a great deal of emphasis on a person’s appearance is one of the most typical aspects of modern times, and one to which children are exposed early on through media and social contacts. More and earlier than ever before, children also end up assessing themselves and each other based on their appearance and different motor functions and skills. For girls, key concerns about their body are often related to their body shape and weight. The boys may be worried about whether they have enough muscles. Dissatisfaction with their own body has also increased among children.

  • Appearance is an important part of building a sense of self. It modifies a person’s view of themselves in relation to others and to themselves.
  • It has been globally stated that being overweight is connected to a person being dissatisfied with their body.
  • Children compare their motor skills, their speed, flexibility, height etc. with each other, and they also do the same regarding the clothes they wear, their facial expressions, posture and the brand of any possessions.
  • Being different in some way, either having different skills or looking different, may lead to bullying and being excluded from the group.
  • Children may be vulnerable to even the smallest comments concerning their body, which can grow into an anxiety that weights on their mind.
  • Even children as young as 4 or 5 years old start to become aware of how their body looks and how they feel about it.
  • It has been proven that a positive body image promotes good self-esteem, feelings of capability, a healthy lifestyle, physical activity, taking care of yourself, trusting others, an ability to concentrate and activity at school.
  • By comparison, a negative body image has been linked to low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, avoiding physical exercise, social anxiety, memory problems and low activity levels at school.

What can the parents do?

  • Parents can act as role models; their approving and respectful attitude and way of speaking about both their own body and the appearance of others as well as about body weight and shape and their respect for different bodies will rub off on the children.
  • The family’s healthy, regular and reasonable exercise, sleep and eating habits will have a protective impact on a growing child’s view of their body’s natural needs, and they may prevent eating disorders.
  • Playing sporty games that bring pleasure together will help the child respect their own body and the bodies of others; sports skills will boost the child’s self-esteem and their positive body image.
  • Appreciative and respectful attitude towards the child’s body, positive encouragement for practising new sports skills.
  • Comparing the child’s body and their different abilities and physical skills to their own level of development, not to those of their siblings, for example.
  • Caring and safe touches and caresses and holding the child are important for forming a solid body image.
  • Teaching media criticism to the child at an age-appropriate level, promoting a broad image of beauty.

 

Read more

Miten tuen lapsen ja nuoren itsetuntoa.

Cacciatore & Korteniemi – Poikela & Huovinen: 2008. WSOY.

Child’s exercise, Vanhempainnetti, Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (in Finnish)

Loneliness

People’s need for the company of other varies, and loneliness is different to being alone, which is something all people need from time to time. Loneliness can be social, which means that you do not have friends to spend time with. Loneliness can also be emotional, if you have no one you can call a friend, even if you do have a group of acquaintances. In conclusion, loneliness refers to a negative feeling and experience, which most people have experienced, at least at some point of their life. If loneliness continues for a long time, it may also start to affect a person’s day-to-day life.

There are many causes that can lead to loneliness, one of them is simply coincidence. Experiences of being rejected or the fear of being alone may lead to giving up and voluntary social exclusion. Shyness or an inhibited nature may also be causes behind loneliness. Loneliness can be prevented by having a good relationship with everyone.

Finnish Central Association for Mental Health: Loneliness (in Finnish)

Read more here (in Finnish).



06.08.2020 09:27