4 Things Parents and Children Can Do While Waiting for Mental Health Services
Listen to Episode 41 of the Raising Joy podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts. The podcast is part of the JOY Campaign, which launched in April 2021 as a suicide prevention communication initiative and aims to reach parents through honest conversations about the mental wellbeing of children and teens.
Raising Joy is part of Cook Children’s Health Care System’s Joy Campaign, a communications initiative aimed at preventing youth suicides. For more information about the Joy Campaign, visit cookchildrens.org/joy.
Note: If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. If you believe that your child is having a mental or physical health emergency, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. Call or text 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, a free and confidential resource available 24/7. If you have questions about your child’s mental health, contact your child’s pediatrician.
By Linda Puga
Raising a child who struggles with their mental health can be scary, challenging and confusing. The ACEs Task Force of Tarrant County developed a video series called The Roadmap for Children’s Mental Health to help families navigate this health issue.
On episode 41 of Raising Joy, Dr. Brian Dixon from Mindful – a psychiatric practice based in Fort Worth and Frances Wampler from the Center for Children’s Health led by Cook Children’s share the mission behind these videos, and how Wampler’s own experience with her child informed the project.
If your child is struggling with their emotions and you don’t know where to turn, this episode is a great start. Mental and behavioral health services can have long waiting lists. If your child is not experiencing a mental health crisis, they may be able to wait to see a professional. Sometimes waiting can be frustrating and take a toll on everyone.
Tips for what you can do while you wait for an appointment with a mental health professional.
First, provide as much structure as possible. Some examples include having a consistent time that your children wake up, having a day-to-day schedule, and making sure they’re going to bed around the same time.
“I think all human beings [rely on structure], adults included, but for kids, it’s even more important that you stay as structured as possible without micromanaging,” said Dr. Brian Dixon, a psychiatrist in Fort Worth.
Physical structure is just as important, such as a decluttered house to come home to.
“Kids are similar to adults in that when we go into chaos, we feel more chaotic and when we feel more chaotic, we tend to make decisions that aren’t always in our best interest,” said Dr. Dixon.
Second, provide reminders that your children are safe and in good hands.
“You know your child better than anybody else,” Dr. Dixon said. “You know if things are going a little bit off the beaten pathway, if they’re not eating as much, if they’re getting more withdrawn or if their personality is changing. All of those are signs that you need to kind of perk your ears up and pay very, very close attention to what your kiddo is doing.”
“If you have that gut instinct that something is going on safety-wise, make sure to reach out,” Dr. Dixon said. Call 911 if it’s an emergency. Talk to your child’s doctor or psychiatrist to get access to care as soon as possible.
Additional ways to comfort your children can include meditation, prayer, and calm music.
Third, spend quality time with your children. Some examples of this can include reading a book or cooking together.
Kids are microphone sponges, Dr. Dixon said.
“They soak in everything that you’re putting out and then they, like a microphone, amplify those same things,” Dr. Dixon said.
Being mindful and thoughtful of the way you carry yourself will have that effect on your children as well.
“If you do those things, they will help prevent a lot of the triggers from happening so that then the kiddo doesn’t have to use the coping skill and then end up in an emergency situation,” said Dr. Dixon.
Fourth, don’t give up.
While it’ll be difficult and there will be moments of frustration for both you and your child, don’t give up.
Remember to take a step back and breathe. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help or ask for support from friends and family.
The waiting period can be exhausting, but Dr. Dixon recommends focusing on diet, sleep, and exercise. This includes getting quality sleep and helping your children get movement throughout the day.