Most people will experience a short- or long-term brain health (mental health) challenge at some point in life, and children and teens are not immune. In fact, developmental milestones, trauma and environmental stressors unique to childhood and adolescence can make these age groups more at risk. Studies show that one in six kids ages 6 to 17 struggle with brain health conditions like anxiety, depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and more.

One challenge parents and caregivers experience is recognizing if a behavior is part of normal childhood development or a sign of a brain health issue. Parents may sometimes dismiss concerning behaviors, attributing warning signs to normal hormonal and developmental changes.

Heart of Iowa Community Services and our providers are available to support children, their families and local educators with their brain health needs. Learn more about how to recognize and respond to children’s brain health needs.

How can I tell if it’s a phase or a brain health issue?

Consider seeking help if a child’s behavior lasts longer than a few weeks, causes repeated distress for the child and family, or interferes with the child’s functioning at home, in school and with family and friends. Some indicators that a child may be experiencing brain health issues include:

  • Frequent temper tantrums, irritability.
  • Academic struggles.
  • Low energy, loss of interest.
  • Changes in sleep pattern.
  • Self-isolation.
  • Repetitive actions.
  • Frequent worrying.
  • High energy, inability to sit still.
  • Difficulty communicating or making friends.
  • Excessive dieting or exercise.
  • Drug and alcohol use.
  • Destructive behavior.
  • Suicidal tendencies.
How can I care for children’s or teens’ brain health?

Stay positive and maintain the child’s trust; listen, understand and know where to turn for support. Children who grow up in a positive, loving environment are more likely to reflect those behaviors in and outside the home. Parents and caregivers are the strongest mainstays to children's brain health, so it’s important for parents and caregivers to maintain their own brain health to create a positive environment for the child’s growth and development. Here are a few tips to improve children’s brain health.

  1. Connect with Heart of Iowa for support. We have trained staff who can assess your child’s needs and locate resources for you and your child. They can work directly with children and their families to discuss what’s happening and to determine a best path forward, whether it’s treatment, individual therapy, family therapy, education or other support mechanisms.
  2. Stay positive and maintain your own brain health. Raising a child is stressful with constant worry about a child’s well-being, finances, academic abilities and more. However, parents/caregivers are their biggest supporters and first role models, so it’s important to stay positive and prioritize personal brain health to best support children’s brain health.
  3. Maintain their trust. It may be tempting to turn to other parents or online outlets to seek advice on dealing with brain health issues, but a child’s brain health is their own private matter and not all advice fits each child. And it’s important to not exploit their issues online or to other parents to get answers. Content published on social media and other online forums is there forever and could someday negatively affect the child. Several resources and professional mental health experts are available to provide confidential support so that privacy is protected.
  4. Listen and understand. Children may show their brain health issues through negative behavior, making it hard for caregivers to respond calmly and with compassion. If they do share, keep an open mind, listen and understand that they are going through something and need support. If they’re not willing to open up, consider enlisting the assistance of an individual or a family therapist. Parents/caregivers can show the child they’re committed to seeking help and prioritizing the child’s brain health by offering to attend therapy sessions, if preferred.

Learn more about how Heart of Iowa can compassionately care for your child or teen, setting them on a path to better brain heath.