Do you have concerns about your child’s behavioral health? Are you unsure how to access services? Your pediatrician’s office may be a good place to start.

Why talk with a pediatrician?

Some parents avoid talking with their child’s pediatrician about mental and behavioral health because they think pediatric health care is limited to physical concerns. But pediatricians want to know if their patients are struggling in any way- physically, socially, emotionally, behaviorally. In fact, many primary care providers believe that integrating behavioral health provision into pediatric medical practices improves the overall quality of patient care.1 And pediatricians have tools that can help you access the resources you need to support your child’s wellbeing.

When to talk with a pediatrician about your child’s behavioral health issues

Annual primary care checkups are a good time to talk with your pediatrician about your child’s mental and behavioral health. Be as specific as you can about your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing – symptoms that you or others find concerning, disruptive behaviors, emotions that your child has trouble managing.

Ask specific questions: Do you want your pediatrician to advise you on next steps? Would you like a referral to counseling or medication treatment? Your pediatrician may have questions for you, too — about symptoms, reactions, behaviors, health conditions or situations relating to your child’s difficulties — take a few minutes before the appointment to decide how you would answer these types of questions.

In some cases, you may not have time to wait for your child’s next pediatric visit. It still makes sense to call your pediatrician’s office and let them know about your concerns. The pediatrician may want you to talk on the phone with them, or with a nurse or counselor. Or they may ask you to come in for an appointment to talk through options.

Pediatricians are here to help

Mightier recently interviewed groups of pediatric health care providers, to get a sense of their experiences caring for patients facing behavioral health challenges. Pediatricians were concerned about the negative consequences of chronic emotional dysregulation, including family stress and school disciplinary actions. When families raised child emotional dysregulation as a concern, providers usually referred their pediatric patients to therapy, and occasionally to psychiatry. Some pediatrician’s offices had counseling or psychiatry professionals on site; others offered referrals to external providers. Every pediatric care provider we talked with was committed to treating the whole child, by supporting their patients’ physical and mental health and wellness.

During our focus groups with pediatric health providers, we asked for their thoughts on digital mental health interventions like the Mightier app. Providers expressed a willingness to recommend digital interventions, especially given the long wait lists and provider shortages that many families endure when they’re seeking child behavioral health treatments. The pediatric providers we talked with were most comfortable recommending digital mental health supports that were known to be effective and that were affordable to patients’ families and easy to use. One goal of providers was to encourage families to follow published guidance on child digital media use from the American Academy of Pediatrics2 and have a balanced approach to screen time, regardless of its purpose (recreational, educational, therapeutic). And they saw digital mental health supports as tools that their patients’ families could use in addition to regular visits with primary care and behavioral health providers. They were very
interested in maintaining human connections with patients and their families.

Here at Mightier, we have had many conversations with child health providers who are invested in supporting children’s behavioral well-being and interested in exploring innovative new technologies to help children get the support they need. If you are worried about your child’s mental and behavioral health, talk with your pediatrician. They are here to help.

References

1. Hine, J.F., Grennan, A.Q., Menousek, K.M., Robertson, G., Valleley, R.J., Evans, J.H. (2017). Physician satisfaction with integrated behavioral health in pediatric primary care: consistency across rural and urban settings. Journal of Primary Care & Community Health, 8(2) 89–93. DOI: 10.1177/2150131916668115 journals.sagepub.com/home/jpc
2. Coyne, S., Radesky, J., Collier, K.M., Gentile, D.A., Ruh, L.J., Nathanson, A.I., Rasmussen, E.E., Reich, S.M., Rogers, J. (2017). Parenting and digital media. Pediatrics, 140 (Supplement 2), S112-S116, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-1758N