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Children vulnerable for troubled mental health, Cook says

MADISON – You’ve taken good care of your children – You’ve fed them. Clothed them. And send them off to school, ready for another day. However, parents can overlook signs of a problem with a child’s mental health.

The audience at the Madison Elementary School PTA meeting on Sept. 14 heard about symptoms, causes and solutions from MES Counselor Stephanie Cook. She presented “Helping Children With Mental Health” to assist parents and guardians.

Cook first asked, “How do we protect their mental health?” First, parents should model healthy coping strategies that a child can emulate. Watch for behavior changes.

In addition, parents need to maintain healthy routines and take time to discuss emotions and feelings regularly. If a child’s behavior continues to suffer, seek out professional help, Cook said.

Parents sometimes may ignore stress that a child faces. Struggles between parents cause disagreements in the household that can filter down to a child. Sibling rivalry (or with friends) is expected but can escalate if situations aren’t resolved.

Even children can experience “lack of privacy” if ‘me time’ isn’t observed, Cook said.

The birth of a baby can lead to uncertainty for the older sibling. School can cause stress as a student transitions to the next grade and in defining social circles. Money problems can trouble children, too.

Fortunately, children do have coping skills to help their well-being. A child can read a book, draw a picture to label the feelings or create a piece of artwork, Cook said. Breathing exercises can calm a child, as does positive self-talk, playing a game with a peer or even yoga moves.

Parents and guardians can watch for signs of an anxiety disorder in a child. The signs include withdrawal from social life, fearing the next anxiety attack and frequent worrying that interferes with daily life.

Other ‘red flags’ are an irrational fear and avoidance of a harmless object, place or situation; panic attacks that have no advance warning; and recurring nightmares.

The child’s caregiver can access mental health resources on Madison City Schools website by visiting madisoncity.k12.al.us, clicking the “Parents & Students” dropdown menu and clicking “Mental Health Matters.” The Enrichment Center at theenrichmentcenter.org also can help parents. MCS teachers and staff are offered training that specializes in mental health for children, Cook said.

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