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Fellows Spotlight
Mental Health for Keiki
August 24, 2021
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Contributed by: Sondra Leiggi Brandon, Cohort VII

Mental health is as important for our keiki as it is for adults, and it’s never too early to start building healthy habits to cope with stress. Cohort VII Fellow Sondra Leiggi Brandon, vice president of patient care, behavioral health at Queen’s Health Systems, shares a checklist of recognizing the signs of stress in children and ideas to help them through it:

Signs of Stress in Children:

  • Crankiness or anger
  • Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Being more sensitive to rejection
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Changes in sleep
  • Vocal outbursts or crying
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Physical complaints (such as stomach aches and headaches) that don't respond to treatment
  • Trouble during events and activities at home or with friends, in school, during extracurricular activities, and with other hobbies or interests
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Increased acting-out of undesirable behaviors (sexual or behavioral)
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Poor grades

Ways to Help Children Through Stressful Times:

  • Three good things: at dinnertime, everyone in the family identifies three good things that have happened to them in the day
  • Make talking about emotions a practice
  • Listen: really listen to them – put down your phone and turn off the TV
  • Outdoor play: sports, playgrounds, fly a kite
  • Connect with nature: hiking trails, beach activities
  • Focus on the good: acts of warmth, kindness, and caring
  • Practice good sleep hygiene: routines for sleep, no TV or social media, bedtime stories, early bedtimes
  • Develop other routines to help limit feelings of being “out of control”
  • Deep breathing
  • Play dates
  • Taking breaks if they feel overwhelmed with schoolwork or siblings
  • Give them some control: let them choose things like their clothes, a restaurant, food 
  • Practice distractions: art, music, writing, reading

For more information about youth mental health, visit the National Institute of Mental Health and Mental Health America. If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, talk to your pediatrician or other health care provider right away.