It’s dinnertime and your
four–year–old has just dissolved into
hysterics after accidentally dropping his
fork. Maybe he’s tired or maybe he’s just
having a bad day.
But if a child continually overreacts
to minor problems, it might be a sign
he’s not effectively coping with stress.
Over time, poor coping skills can affect a
child’s ability to learn and interact with
others, and even weaken his immune
Parents and caregivers are usually
well attuned to children’s physical and
cognitive development, but are often
less attuned to children’s social and
emotional development, says Christine
Riddell, an Alberta Health Services
social worker who specializes in mental
health screening and promotion.
Good mental health can be described
as levelness (see Glossary on page 14).
“Giving children the skills to identify
and manage their emotions helps to
build resilience, and carries over into all
aspects of their lives,” she says. “Good
health isn’t possible without good mental
Indeed, many mental health problems
can begin early in our lives. The Mental
Health Commission of Canada says
that for more than 70 per cent of adults
living with mental health concerns
and illnesses, their symptoms began in
childhood or early adolescence.
Mental health problems really need to
be addressed early, says Nancy Reynolds,
the president and CEO of the Alberta
Centre for Child, Family and Community
Research, and a former assistant deputy
minister of Partnership and Innovation for
Alberta Children's Services.
“Many children need psychological
intervention, but only a small percentage
actually receives it,” she says. Parents face
the stigma of having a mentally troubled
child and are too often reluctant to reach
out for help.
“A lot of good work is being done in
the schools in terms of making mental
health part of the normal conversation, but
schools can’t do it alone,” Reynolds says,
adding that reducing stigma and helping
children who need it depend on support
from everyone in a community.
Riddell urges parents and caregivers
to seek help if they feel they need it, even
if it’s just for some advice. “Babies don’t
come with an instruction manual.”