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Posted by The Charlotte Post on Monday, March 7, 2016

Life and Religion

Is your child crying out for help?
How to recognize mental health issues before tragedy occurs
 
Published Wednesday, January 23, 2013 11:30 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

You’ve read the headlines about gunmen killing and injuring scores of people on school campuses, a Texas military base and a Colorado movie theater. Just this week, a shooting occurred at a Texas community college, leaving three people injured.

With each story comes a heated debate over gun control and issues of mental health. What will it take to prevent or reduce such violence in the future? What should parents do? What are the signs that danger is imminent?

“In all those occurrences, I would bet that [the aggressors] were showing significant symptoms prior to each instance, but they went untreated,” said Sharita Shelby, M.A., L.P.C., clinical supervisor for Heading in the Right Direction, a Charlotte non-profit that works with mental health and substance abuse issues.

While some changes and mood swings are a normal part of teenage behavior and growing up, Shelby said significant changes in a child, especially those that appear suddenly and persist for long periods of time, can be signs of a deeper problem. For example, if your child is typically outgoing, then becomes socially withdrawn, you need to investigate the issue.

Younger children, she said, may become increasingly disobedient or aggressive. Sometimes poor grades and disciplinary problems at school are more than behavior issues but signs that something is awry.

Shelby said younger children are also more likely to describe emotional issues in physical terms.

“They will start complaining of physical symptoms, such as having a headache or upset stomach,” she said. “They tend to start saying physical things first. I think it’s just easier for them to identify.”

Shelby said other signs that parents should be vigilant of include a child making severe changes to their group of friends, interests or appearance. Drug abuse is another indicator of a serious problem.

“These are what I would call yellow flags that something may be going on with your child,” said Shelby. “If your child is experiencing three or four things on the list, to me, it’s a flag that there is something changing with the child.”

Family changes (i.e. birth of a baby or divorce), physical and emotional abuse, moving or other significant life changes can also bring on these symptoms.

Shelby said parents should also become familiar with childhood developmental stages or benchmarks that show emotional, intellectual and social progress for their age. If they are not progressing or at some point regress, that is an indication that something needs to be addressed.

Shelby said the only way a parent can gauge a child’s emotional health and cognitive development is to have a clinical assessment by a professional.

“Sometimes, you find that it may be regular teenage behavior, but the only way to identify that is to have a comprehensive assessment,” she said. “Then you can use the results of that clinical assessment to decide what is best for you child.”

Shelby said the most important thing parents can do is to maintain a healthy relationship with their children and keep the lines of communication open. She offers these tips:

Be open.

“Don’t just judge from your parental standpoint,” Shelby said. “Just understand what they have going on and where they are coming from.”

Be prepared.

“When they tell you the truth, don’t overreact,” said Shelby. “Even if it’s overwhelming to you, the best thing is to somewhat normalize it for them and then look at resources in order to help.”

Be a parent, not a friend.

“It’s a big difference,” said Shelby. “In my opinion, you are a parent and guardian first. The friendship will develop later on… At the end of the day, kids want structure…. The lines get blurred with friendship… If you feel like you are on the same level as your child, then you have crossed the boundaries. You should never feel like you are on the exact same level as your child… in anything.”

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