Understanding A Young Child’s Mind
Children are much different than adults in many aspects, one of them being how mental illness manifests in them. While mania is mania and depression is depression, it doesn’t mean that a mental illness demonstrates the exact same presentation in children as it does in adults. Mental illness in children can be quite different. That’s why it’s important to understand a young child’s mind and where they’re coming from.
Children view the world much differently than adults. Jean Piaget established stages through which a child develops intellectually throughout the course of childhood. While the stages won’t be mentioned here, one can easily find them and understand what children experience when growing up.
For instance, depression in children does not always manifest with the obvious sadness that can be observed in adults. Children with depression often display irritability and oppositional behavior. Parents may report that their child “does not feel like doing anything anymore” and “he’s always moody or angry!”
Some children may display borderline traits such as self-injurious behaviors, unstable relationships, risky behaviors such as smoking marijuana or cat-fishing the opposite sex on dating apps, etc. But these same children may also experience inattention and hyperactivity.
It becomes a challenge to properly diagnosis a child: is it borderline personality disorder, ADHD or normal childlike behavior? Some children and teens may even present with psychotic features. Parents may complain that their child talks to themselves, refuses to leave their bedroom, has a hard time making friends, is isolated and even hypersexual!
In child psychiatry, it is very important to listen to the parent’s side of the story as well as the child’s. But most importantly, understanding a young child’s mind is key to making a proper diagnosis or any diagnosis. Some children may need a lot of time to express their thoughts and feelings, and they will often shy away in front of their parents.
While mental illness is mental illness, child psychiatry is a different world from adult psychiatry. As much as the patient comes first, the parents or caretakers are just as important for collateral information. This makes child psychiatry a very team-dependent field.
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