Warning Signs and Common Symptoms

Warning Signs and Common Symptoms:
Knowing When to Seek Help

Children and teens oftentimes display behavioral issues as a part of normal development. In many cases these behaviors can be managed without the help of a healthcare professional and may even resolve on their own. However, if behavioral issues persist, they may also indicate an underlying mental or physical health disorder.

Warning Signs of Mental Health Disorders in Children:
  • Persistent sadness that lasts two weeks or more
  • Withdrawal or avoidance of social interactions
  • Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself
  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Outbursts or extreme irritability
  • Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful
  • Significant changes in mood, behavior, or personality
  • Changes in eating habits or loss of weight
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in academic performance or school avoidance
  • Parents and caregivers should consult a healthcare professional for evaluation any time a child’s behavioral issues become worrisome or are not typical of their age. Providing family history and details of the child’s language and social-emotional development can assist providers in differential diagnosis and measuring the progression of symptoms. The following sections discuss common childhood issues that in some cases, have been associated with mental health disorders.

Sleeping Problems

Children often experience sleep problems as a part of normal childhood development. Common issues include trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep and nightmares.

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Food and Nutrition

Many children have strong food preferences. Whether a child feels strongly about a certain food color, group, or texture, food preferences can affect nutritional intake.

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School Performance

It is normal for children to occasionally struggle and have varied levels of school performance. Sometimes additional help from a teacher or tutor may be enough to increase skills and confidence.

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Peer Relationships

Peer relationships naturally change throughout the course of childhood and teenage years.

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Disruptive Behavior and Aggression

It is common for children to exhibit strong emotions, and even sometimes disruptive behaviors, as part of normal development. Among young children, temper tantrums and outbursts are usually considered to be normal.

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Inattention, Hyperactivity, and Impulsivity

It is not uncommon for children to exhibit inattention, distractibility, impulsivity, or hyperactivity at times. 3-5% of children exhibit frequent or severe symptoms that cause difficulties at home, school, and in relationships with peers.

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Depressed Mood

Occasional sadness is a normal part of growing up, and mood swings are common during teenage years. However, prolonged periods of sadness, irritability, or loss of enjoyment in usual activities may be warning signs of an emotional disorder.

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Excessive Worry or Fear

As children age and experience new challenges, it is common for them to experience fluctuations in feelings of worry or fear, at times causing significant distress. Self-esteem is typically highest in early childhood but can begin to decrease during the tween and teen years, which may increase anxiety around school or social activities with peers.

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