Do You Know if Your Child is Happy?
Is Negative Nelly Natured or Nurtured?
“The sky is blue”, you say? She says, “The sky looks gray to me”. There is SOOO much negativity, stress, anxiety, depression, and more out in the world. Some people thrive on it, others cope with it, but not few laugh at it. “Your cup is empty”, one may say. Isn’t it better when he says, “My cup is still half full”? What makes one person look at the world with “rose colored glasses” while others paint a darker picture?
The topic of nature vs nurture has been a long-standing subject that to this day it’s answers are as controversial as creation vs evolution. While it is not my intention to solve one of humanity’s greatest questions, the goal is to reflect on pessimism as a personality trait. Is pessimism unhappiness? I want to inform you that an unhappy child is not always as obvious as it sounds. Also, it is important to realize negativity may signal subtle symptoms of something deeper. The only effective course to take you there is by my own family’s personal testimony as an example. In addition, I am including an interview with a child psychologist to answer the need for childhood mental health awareness.
Theoretically, the viewpoint of Nature takes a baby born under caring and uncomplicated birth surrounded by loving family, traditional or not, and tickled with attention during development reflects “happy”. This suggests that the child, if not “happy”, would have a preset personality programmed already. On the other hand, the same platform of Nature would take a baby’s development under opposite conditions including an isolated or abusive development and a result of “happy”, revealed as a predestined gene.
A nurture stand on these same control groups would create different results. For instance, the child with a caring and “nurturing” development derives a happy child while the other child takes from its environment what it is given. Realistically, it seems that the pessimistic outlook comes from a combination of both behavioral theories. “Cynic Sam” just may well have had a content childhood before life clobbered him. “Negative Nellie” could have come from a miserable neighborhood but later a small town changed her frown to a smile.
On an optimistic note… we have the power to direct our destinies. When you look in the mirror, is the realization a positive or negative one? I consider myself an easy-going person. Pretty much tend to go with the flow of things. Not to say, I don’t get upset blow a gasket now and then, but it usually takes quite a bit. Of course, I have sad days. I feel overwhelmed at times just like most. The reason I fall into the category of easy-going or “even-keeled” relies on my overall positive outlook. I know “tomorrow is another day”. Things just usually seem to work out given the time, work, and faith necessary to get through them.
Are Sour Grapes Just Sour Grapes?
But what if from day one happiness seems lacking from a child’s grasp? My granddaughter’s laughs and cries could be more mechanical or come with a greater amount of effort than one might expect. It is the same with hugs and closeness. When she is in the mood for contact, she will come to us with open arms or bless us with a peck on the cheek. Her overall outlook simply put is pessimistic, even in her younger years. At first, we accept her negative nelly personality. Then as time passes, the unhappiness grew along with her. Some traumatic blows in her twelve years only perpetuate the problems. Nature’s bump brings her born to a nineteen-year-old mother, my daughter, and a father who denies any responsibility as her start. Yet nurture tips the scale into a caring household full of extended family and her grandparents by her side to spoil her with attention and love.
Unfortunately, her next painful time spans over eight years. It starts when her mother meets a man that poses as a prospective partner in life. Instead, his petty crimes and substance abuse means recurring prison and jail sentences with brief stays pretending to be a family. Throughout this time, he successfully controls my daughter through abuse and threats to believe she needs to stay with him. This is the path leading to my present custody of the children beginning off and on shortly after he enters the picture eight years ago. Yes, I said children! Six months after she found herself pregnant, he went off to serve a prison sentence the first time not to return physically for two years. Environment poses to be the problem in this case.
During this time, we discover another weight burdening her shoulders. At age seven, she receives a diagnosis of Chronic Kidney Disease. A condition, we come to find out, she most likely acquires at birth. Already Stage III out of five for kidney function, her kidneys are severely damaged and deformed. The sweetheart of all who know her or even those who don’t because of her slight frame and blonde braided tails just as tall. Apparently, the small stature is a hidden sign, and not the result of a short mother’s genes as we suspect. Consistent attention with positive acceptance of her health throughout family and friends frame a network of support from day one can counteract nature’s strike.
The most recent life changes occur the past two years. First, we make the decision to move back up north. After ten years in Florida, all the signs point north to New England again. My granddaughter born in Florida concedes to her new surroundings with normal misgivings. Leaving the already known for the unknown is understandably scary for most. The acceptance still lies in doubt two years later. Bits and pieces of her previous life remaining in Florida divide her feelings for moving forward. She misses memories and sharing time with two uncles, an aunt, two cousins, and the family dog. Her environment provides both a positive and negative association. Positively excelling in New England academically, socially, and financially she continues receiving support, love, and nurturing.
A hard loss came in February with the passing of her great grandfather. Looking forward to his trips to Florida as a snowbird each year, he becomes a big part of her life. Sitting on his lanai eating strawberries and other snacks with him a favorite pastime of hers. Offering comfort and supportive understanding of her loss introduces her to the natural course of life. We explain we all will miss him and the need to express feelings doesn’t seem to diminish her sense of loss. In fact, she keeps a tally of losses or difficulties in her life instead.
Recently, my granddaughter’s therapist lent a book in which listed 7 ants as analogies for children’s behavior or attitudes. One is declared “the fortune telling ant”. They tend to convince themselves of defeat even before the event happens. For example, there is a picnic tomorrow to attend. “The fortune telling ant” tells themselves “what if it rains?”, “What if it is too hot?”, “What if it is too cold?” The ant may truly want to go, but, talks themselves out of it.
How Serious is Understanding Childhood Mental Health?
Did you know the number of children who are diagnosed with mental health conditions in the United States is on the climb? The statistics are staggering! If you are a parent of a child with the vastly varied degrees of these conditions, you know of the challenges, stigmas, and helplessness that comes with them. Awareness and education are the means to combat these obstacles our families and children face each extraordinary ordinary every day.
There are many people that simply scoff at the idea of childhood mental health. They believe it more as disciplinary neglect. Honestly, I am guilty of this theory myself! “Spare the rod, spoil the child”! I do not describe corporal punishment as discipline but by overlooking things. These things comprise of offences against manners and other basic behavioral guidelines. They are the building blocks of our own moral compass.
Learning the important lesson is the first step in understanding the need for childhood mental health awareness. It is only recent events within my 12-year-old granddaughter’s life have I realized my ignorance.
They say, “Hindsight is 20/20 vision.” When I look back at my children’s childhoods and development, I see with clarity symptoms signaling possible mental health conditions that went unchecked. Have you ever questioned if your child is happy? How many often do you wonder why he/she is so angry? Do you ask yourself what is wrong with this picture? The flag for me, especially the older my granddaughter became, is the lacking a sense of danger like I believe should exist. Mental Health awareness is important, yes. Childhood Mental Health Awareness is crucial!
When Does Your Child’s Behavior Become a Mental Health Condition?
As a mother knowing how to deal with disciplinary actions for my children seemed diluted and ineffective. Their father, however, only spoke sternly to evoke a response. They quickly modified their behavior, at least momentarily, under his rule. The dynamics in my family always revolved around power struggles, attention, and sibling rivalry on the surface. Deeper examination revealed much more!
Attitude and awareness amid childhood mental health may not have advanced any measurable amount over the last 25 years but the number of cases climb.
FIFTEEN SIGNS YOUR CHILD MAY HAVE A MENTAL HEALTH CONDITION
trouble making decisions
changes in sleep or eating
physical complaints i.e., stomach aches, sick
loss of interests, sadness
Until there is an unfortunate crisis to uncover your child’s mental state, the signs to watch are vague and individual as the individual themselves. Did any of the diagnosis’s offer solutions, relief, or change? When does a labeled diagnosis matter? How do you know if your child is happy and mentally healthy?
Here is a link by NIMH (the National Institute of Mental Health) to provide you with frequently asked questions…
The whole idea of mental health seems so subjective on an everyday level. Those of us over a certain age rarely heard of such conditions for children. As I mentioned before any parental inadequacy issues are questioned keep in mind certain signs to watch. Parents feel guilty enough under “normal” circumstances and question their ability to raise adjusted adults daily. “Spare the rod, spoil the child”, corporal punishment vs reward nurturing, neglect, or other items of parents which feed their guilt is not always the answer in diagnoses. After all, children do not come with instructions, as a rule. So, do you see the incredible difficulty diagnosing mental health in children? Even experiencing my children’s struggles, I am not sure I possess any extra insight to my granddaughter’s conditions.
What Are the Most Common Mental Health Conditions for Children?
Many of us have heard of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) because it is one of the most common conditions diagnosed. Honestly though, how many of you think of psychosis, bi polar, or schizophrenia when it comes to children? Do you recognize Oppositional Defiance Disorder or Conduct Disorder? Then Depression and Anxiety add to the list either alone or in combination with other conditions. Underlying diagnoses like substance abuse, hurting one’s self, and suicide complicate the clear-cut answers we desire.
Manifestations of these conditions may look like your child is lazy, unmotivated, or simply “behind” other children their age. In my granddaughter’s case, she showed developmental delays at an early age. She started talking late, her size was small for her age, and did not accept “No” for an answer. As a family, we know she progresses below the standard, but not expecting anything more than difficulty reading or math in school. However, much like her kidney disease we are blindsided by something right in front of our face! In treatment of her kidney issues, we learn her bladder is dysfunctional. Our specialist states her dysfunction usually associates with children under the umbrella of ADHD and Autistic Syndrome Spectrum. Eureka! “There is our SIGN”! It all fits, the puzzle pieces complete the picture.
As there is no end to this story, I want to leave you with two things. First, the interview with the child psychologist, Patricia Sivio Cole, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist…
How important is understanding childhood mental health?
I think it is just as important to understand our children’s mental health as their physical health – they are quite related and affect each other.
Are you satisfied with the general publics’ awareness of their children’s emotional and behavioral needs?
I think the awareness is inconsistent. There are those who are hyperaware and worry about mental health issues in their children while they are still in diapers and others for whom emotional health is not at all on their radar. I believe a better understanding of mental health of our children can lead to happier families.
For example, parents will often complain about temper tantrums in young children and think their children are “bad” or “spoiled” when often those meltdowns are triggered by anxiety. If a parent recognizes that an unexpected change in plans – real or perceived – can surprise and confuse a child and without the verbal ability to express those emotions, they may meltdown, it is easier for them to anticipate that response and provide comfort and reassurance ahead of time and often ward off such a tantrum. That is just as important to be aware of as knowing that hunger, thirst, and fatigue can set a child off which helps a parent keep extra snacks and bottles of water on hand and stick to a nap and bedtime schedule as much as possible.
Is a growing trend of children diagnosed with conditions or do we just hear more about them because of media in today’s world?
I think the answer is a combination of both.
Adults have become more willing to recognize mental health issues of their own and to seek treatment. In doing so, many will look back on their own childhoods and recognize early signs of depression, anxiety, etc. and examine how adults responded to them. Many of the parents who bring their children in do so almost proactively – seeing signs in their children and wanting to help them before it becomes a big problem. It is a good thing that while there is still significant stigma associated with mental health treatment, it is less than in the past and more people are open to getting assistance.
Parents today are more likely than in generations past to be raising their children without the support of extended family as people have had to move for their careers. It can be harder to build a community around them that can provide respite and childcare to reduce the parents’ stress as well as provide advice.
Pediatricians today are working closer than ever with mental health workers and are much more likely than in the past to refer a child to get support early. Schools now provide some mental health services. A child who has a had a pleasant experience interacting with a school therapist is often more amenable to additional treatment when facing the demands of middle school later. The media has done a decent job trying to normalize interaction with the mental health system – although more needs to be done. It is not unusual for them to bring on mental health experts after an upsetting event or tragedy to help parents know how to talk with their children. They will often do stories about how to help children through a divorce, change of schools, relocation etc. Such exposure makes it easier for people to take advantage of support out there.
What do you think would be most helpful to address this subject?
In addition, people talking to each other and not being shy about saying they worked with someone when their own child was struggling will continue to encourage people to seek out services when they need it. The more we have those conversations and reduce stigma; the less kids will have to suffer.
How do you know if your child is happy?
Every child is different. It can be very difficult for an outgoing extrovert parent to feel their quiet introvert child is happy, but like adults, happy children can express it differently. Some happy kids love to be in the middle of everything and their shrieks of joy are easy to see. Others may feel most comfortable and happy when they are on the edge and watching the chaos, but safe from the unpredictability of it all. A happy child expresses joy and satisfaction regularly. They look forward to specific events, interactions, people. Happy children make positive connections to others – family, caretakers, teachers, peers. When they do get upset, they can be soothed and are able to let it go and move on without it coloring the rest of their day.
How do parents know when to seek assistance with their child?
Trust their gut instinct. If they are worried, seek a professional opinion. Many times, I am able to reassure a family – what you are describing is developmentally appropriate and not a concern. I can let them know when they might want to come in in the future. Good parents tend to worry and often helping them relax in turn helps the children. Pediatricians see the children over time and see a lot of them. If you have a concern, make an appointment first with them. Teachers are a reliable source of information of how your child is doing outside of your view.
Are there symptoms we should watch for warning signs?
Changes can be important: A child who used to be happy go lucky, but now gets upset over almost nothing;. A child who used to interact regularly with peers but is now mostly withdrawn and isolated; A child whose worries or fears are getting in the way of them participating in activities; A child who has outbursts of anger that seem difficult to control and interferes in their relationships.
What are some of the more common conditions that we may be aware of for children?
As with adults, anxiety is one of the most common things that affect children. There can be a biological predisposition as well as learned behaviors. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder can not only interfere with learning in school, but in severe cases can isolate a child socially and exacerbate anxiety and depression when not addressed. Over time, we are paying better attention to children who fall on the Autism Spectrum and getting them support they need in and out of school to flourish. Finally, any child going through a major change such as a death in the family, divorce, relocation, a deployment etc. may experience an adjustment disorder.
WHO DOES A PARENT TURN TO?
Where does a parent get help?
Start with your pediatrician and/or your school. Most keep a list of local clinicians they have collaborated with over the years. Insurance companies can also be helpful in finding someone to work with. There are child guidance clinics in many areas as well as clinics affiliated with local hospitals. In an emergency, parents can call 211 and ask for emergency mobile psychiatric services for children. A clinician can talk you through the crisis or send someone to your home.
Thank you, Miss Patty, for participating in my interview! Now, I said “I wanted to leave you with two things”. Secondly, I want to remind you…
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<3 Beauty is in the ordinary; Your everyday is extraordinary with momentous ordinary moments <3