When a child is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, it is a frightening and confusing experience both for the child and his or her parents. During the time when parents are awaiting the diagnosis there is a time of confusion, frustration, and anger that has already occurred. Parents can be both relieved, to have a name for their child’s problem, and upset, to hear that their child has a disorder.
This can become more complicated when mental health professionals use large, undefined words to describe a child’s problem. This can make parents feel stupid or foolish, so much so, that they may be afraid to ask what it all means. The result is parents who feel as if they are a failure. They may also feel powerless to cope with their child’s mental
Child Development and Diagnosis
Parents should understand how mental health professionals diagnose a mental health problem. By mental health professionals we mean psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, or any mental health worker. Child development helps in the diagnosis process of a mental health disorder. Although child development differs from one child to the other, all children go through almost similar stages. Children grow at different rates physically, socially and mentally. One child could excel in social skills, and lack physical skills. Another child can have super physical skills yet is poor in academic achievements. If a child is delayed in one process s/he can catch up, which shows how development is a fluid process that is carried on different paces. And in these cases that is where parents and professionals come in and work together. Depending on how delayed the child’s development is, it is how much time the parents and health workers will spend together.
Another problem that occurs is when a disorder affects the development of a child. For example a child who has depression may have physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches, feeling withdrawn, few friends, and no motivation. It is important that the mental health professional pays attention to developmental issues and helps the parent understand how one area can affect another.
Finally, child development is dynamic and purposeful. Children have a natural curiosity and an even wider capacity for growth and change. This is good news for parents. This capacity allows children to heal from childhood traumas that lead to disorders. It allows the child to have a normal, healthy life. Children and their disorders can change over time. It is with the help of the parents and mental health professional to help take their children in the right direction.
Untangling the Knot
How do mental health disorders develop in children? It is very complex. In cases related to trauma, in cases where a child is a witness of crime or a severe accident he can show signs of sleep disturbances, nightmares, and flashbacks. It is a straightforward diagnosis and easy to detect. Some problems can come from familial, socioeconomic or internal conflicts. In that case it is like a necklace with a knot that you need to untangle. However, it is very difficult to untangle and at some times you have to unravel many angles in order to acknowledge the problem. Family play an important role, as they have witnessed the knot tangle slowly over the years. Similarly, the family can increase or decrease the mental health problem in their children. Other children in the family can also be affected by a mental health problem, when one child has all the attention of his parents and his siblings are ignored. Resentment, anger, and aggressive behavior may arise.
Information and Support
Perhaps the most important thing a parent can do when their child has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder is to get as much information on the topic as possible and find other parents of children with this diagnosis. This will reduce a lot of the anxiety and myths about the diagnosis.
Parents can find information by reading and browsing the Internet. At first, parents will feel overwhelmed or even refuse to look at the information. This is normal and will usually pass with time. If a parent chronically refuses to look at any information on the topic they may need the help and support of other parents and family members to deal with this frightening change in their lives. Don’t try to force or guilt a parent into researching their child’s diagnosis. Compassion and patience is needed at this time.
Working with a Professional
Most likely a parent will work with the professional that diagnosed his or her child. But when this is not the case, for instance when the child has been diagnosed by a school psychologist or general family physician, the parent will have to find a qualified professional that they feel comfortable with.
Parents should ask the referring professional for recommendations on who can help treat the child and the family. The decision of a professional working with a child is not an easy one and should be considered patiently and wisely. Take time to research location, price, availability, and background. This involves a child’s well being and should be handled carefully. Once a professional has been chosen, work closely with that person on the needs of the child. Every professional has a different way of handling parent/child interaction and consultations in therapy. Some will meet individually with parent and child. Others will want to meet together. Either way, parents need to be involved as they are the central agents in their child’s life.
Having a child diagnosed with a mental health disorder is a crushing experience, even in the best of circumstances and with the best of medical and therapeutic help. Parents will need to understand all of the issues that are involved with the child’s disorder, including development, diagnosis, and treatment techniques. Finding information, and a qualified professional will be helpful as parents navigate the stormy waters of diagnosis and treatment. With this help, they should be able to find calmer and safer times in their lives.