For Parents and Caregivers
As a parent or caregiver, you want the best for your children or other dependents. You may be concerned or have questions about certain behaviors they exhibit and how to ensure they get help.
What to Look For It is important to be aware of warning signs that your child may be struggling. You can play a critical role in knowing when your child may need help. Consult with a school counselor, school nurse, mental health provider, or another health care professional if your child shows one or more of the following behaviors:
Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
Seriously trying to harm or kill himself or herself, or making plans to do so
Experiencing sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing
Getting in many fights or wanting to hurt others
Showing severe out-of-control behavior that can hurt oneself or others
Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to make himself or herself lose weight
Having intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
Experiencing extreme difficulty controlling behavior, putting himself or herself in physical danger or causing problems in school
Using drugs or alcohol repeatedly
Having severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
Showing drastic changes in behavior or personality
Because children often can't understand difficult situations on their own, you should pay particular attention if they experience:
Loss of a loved one
Divorce or separation of their parents
Any major transition—new home, new school, etc.
Traumatic life experiences, like living through a natural disaster
Teasing or bullying
Difficulties in school or with classmates
What to Do If you are concerned your child's behaviors, it is important to get appropriate care. You should:
Talk to your child's doctor, school nurse, or another health care provider and seek further information about the behaviors or symptoms that worry you
Ask your child's primary care physician if your child needs further evaluation by a specialist with experience in child behavioral problems
Ask if your child's specialist is experienced in treating the problems you are observing
Talk to your medical provider about any medication and treatment plans
How to Talk About Mental Health Do you need help starting a conversation with your child about mental health? Try leading with these questions. Make sure you actively listen to your child's response.
Can you tell me more about what is happening? How you are feeling?
Have you had feelings like this in the past?
Sometimes you need to talk to an adult about your feelings. I'm here to listen. How can I help you feel better?
Do you feel like you want to talk to someone else about your problem?
I'm worried about your safety. Can you tell me if you have thoughts about harming yourself or others?
When talking about mental health problems with your child you should:
Communicate in a straightforward manner
Speak at a level that is appropriate to a child or adolescent's age and development level (preschool children need fewer details than teenagers)
Discuss the topic when your child feels safe and comfortable
Watch for reactions during the discussion and slow down or back up if your child becomes confused or looks upset
Listen openly and let your child tell you about his or her feelings and worries
Learn More About Supporting Your Children There are many resources for parents and caregivers who want to know more about children's mental health. Learn more about:
Recognizing mental health problems in children, how they are affected, and what you can do
Diagnosing and treating children with mental health problems
Talking to children and youth after a disaster or traumatic event
Get Help for Your Child Seek immediate assistance if you think your child is in danger of harming themselves or others. You can call a crisis line or the National Suicide Prevention Line
at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If your child is in need of community mental health services you can find help in your area.