This article will provide practical strategies for parents, caregivers, and educators to effectively support and build resilience in children with an adjustment disorder, fostering their emotional well-being during times of change and transition.
An adjustment disorder in children is a reaction children have, behavioral or emotional, to stressful changes and events in their lives. Causes of an adjustment disorder in kids can include several personalized things, such as:
- A separation or divorce of parents
- The birth of a new sibling
- A chronic illness
- The loss of a pet
Adjustment disorders can be helped by parents, caregivers, and educators if they know how to help children build their resiliency and not let small but seemingly large changes in life cause significant disruptions to well-being.
Adjustment disorder in a child: symptoms
With an adjustment disorder, children do not experience PTSD because it wasn’t a traumatic event necessarily; it is, instead, a stressful event. Similarly, an adjustment disorder in children can manifest with predominant secondary anxiety or depression symptoms, but it is not the same as an anxiety disorder for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is not the result of changes to the neurochemistry or brain.
Adjustment disorder in child symptoms can include:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Fear of being separated
- Disturbing emotions
- Disturbing behaviors
- Not abiding by regular rules or social norms, such as being truant from school, fighting, or destroying property
As is the case with any mental health disorder, it is essential, as the parent or guardian, to learn how to help a child with an adjustment disorder to help avoid serious impacts on their academic performance, social engagement, and emotional and psychological well-being.
Impact of adjustment disorder on a child’s well-being:
– Academic performance
Some of the most obvious impacts include academic performance. If students are struggling to stay focused, their grades can drop. If they are true to regularly, this can cause academic disruptions. If students get into fights, especially at school, it can further impede their progress.
– Social implications
There are several social implications as well, with children having trouble making friends or keeping friends, socially distancing themselves from others, and failing to develop some of the critical social skills that they need at younger ages.
– Emotional and psychological implications
There are emotional and psychological implications of an untreated adjustment disorder as well. Without proper treatment, individuals who are experiencing high levels of depression or anxiety can eventually experience depressive disorders or anxiety disorders. Moreover, such implications can lead to self-medication or maladaptive behaviors.
Strategies for supporting children with adjustment disorder:
Learning how to help a child with an adjustment disorder comes down to supporting them.
– Open Communication and Validation
Start with open communication and validation. Trying to sweep away their emotions or tell them that it’s not that bad can cause more harm.
For example, as an adult, you may have dealt with your fair share of trauma and stressful changes in life. So, you have built up emotional resilience over the course of your exposure to traumatic or stressful changes.
To you, moving your three children from their childhood home in New York to Ohio may not seem like a traumatic event, but the emotions of your children, this move could be on par with some of your most severe traumatic emotions because, for them, it’s the biggest and most stressful challenge in their life thus far.
It is important to validate their feelings and let them know that they are real and it’s okay to experience them and let them know that you might be experiencing certain emotions having to do with the change as well.
– Establishing Routines and Predictability
With an adjustment disorder in a child, symptoms vary so much from child to child that one thing you can do is establish a routine and predictability. Despite any changes, such as a separation, a new baby, or even a new school, by maintaining a routine, you can give your children something they know will remain constant.
– Encouraging Healthy Coping Mechanisms
You can help alleviate or reduce the severity of an adjustment disorder in children by encouraging healthy coping mechanisms. No doubt, the emotional resiliency you have built as an adult came about by way of healthy coping mechanisms throughout your life, but children may not have those yet.
As the educator, parent, or even supportive friend and family member, you can encourage children to:
- Do yoga when they feel jittery or go for a walk
- Get outside and walk or play for a few minutes, even just sit in the sun, if they feel anxious or depressed
- Journal how they feel, especially before bed, so that their thoughts don’t interfere with sleep
The best way to encourage these healthy coping mechanisms is to do them alongside the child. Practice guided meditation by sitting together and listening to something on your phone or the television. Follow along with a short yoga for kids on TV. Walk together outside, in a local park or other nature trail.
– Seeking Professional Help
In some cases, it might be necessary to explore professional help for an adjustment disorder in kids. Professional help can include therapy that encourages your child to build other emotional resilience tactics or healthy coping mechanisms. It can also give children a chance to talk about how they feel. Sometimes children simply aren’t comfortable with opening up to their parents, especially if they feel like their parents aren’t really listening or their parents are to blame for whatever stressful change or event has manifested.
Explore prevention and proactive measures
Many of the same ways that you can support a child with an adjustment disorder can be applied proactively to help prevent it in the first place. Skill-building activities for children are essential. The more children are exposed to small disappointments, changes, or stressful events throughout their childhood, the more they can build resilience toward things like change. This type of exposure helps them foster internal support when larger changes come forth in the future.
Continuing to gain awareness of how these disorders work is important for caregivers and parents. Ongoing educational resources are available either through professional help or through adjustment disorder services.
Key strategies for managing adjustment disorder in children and fostering their resilience include providing healthy coping mechanisms, having open communication and validation, establishing routines and predictability, and in some cases, seeking professional help. A supportive environment is essential in promoting emotional well-being, and the earlier you can Implement that supportive environment, the more likely you can prevent an adjustment disorder or reduce the severity.