Black child colors with help from adult.

The Best Mental Health Treatments for Children

Mental health treatments for children are something worth looking into. Now, when I say best, I mean the most studied, approved methods for mental health treatments. There are other treatments which have not gotten as much funding for studies and still may help for mental health conditions. There will be a future post soon about alternative mental health treatments so stay tuned!

For this post, I am focusing on children with ADHD, anxiety, sensory processing disorders, and depression for mental health treatments for children. I know some of you may be freaking out and not know what the heck to do for your child! How is this usually treated? Don't worry, girl, I got you!

So you know, there is no cure for these conditions but many people find the following things helped. Really, it is often a combination of things that helps the most!

Note: I am not a doctor or psychologist. Posts on this site are for informational purposes, and parents are encouraged to seek their physician, psychiatrist, psychologist or other medical professional for a thorough examination of their child.

Sources Used, So You Know it's Legit (too Legit to Quit)

Mayo Clinic, Child Mind Institute

Traditional Treatments

There are only a couple of traditional mental health treatments for children with ADHD, anxiety, depression or processing disorders. So, we'll explore those traditional methods.

Medicine for Mental Health Treatments for Children

ADHD Medicine

For children with ADHD, they are typically prescribed stimulant medication.  Don't worry, this usually won't make the kid bounce off the walls! Actually it's the opposite, kids with ADHD will usually focus more and move less when they have stimulants. Stimulant drugs are available in short-acting and long-acting forms. So you know, stimulants can have many side effects and should only be given to children after much thought and consideration.

So, stimulants can be one of the following:

Amphetamines, Names So You Know What to Ask About
  • Dexedrine
  • Adderall XR
  • Mydayis
  • Vyvanse
Methylphenidates, Names So You Don't Get Confused
  • Concerta, Ritalin, others
  • Focalin
  • A long-acting patch called Daytrana can be worn on the hip
A variety of pills form a question mark.
Photo by Anna Shvets
Here you go, Side Effects of Stimulants
  • loss of appetite
  • trouble sleeping
  • increased irritability
  • more tics
  • raised anxiety
  • may cause an increased blood pressure or heart rate
  • rarely increase the risk for agitation or psychotic or manic symptoms
  • Some possibly suicidal thoughts but this is unproved
Other Medications to Treat ADHD
  • Strattera
  • Antidepressants like Wellbutrin
  • Intuniv
  • Catapres, Kapvay

Just so you know, these other types of medications may take many weeks before you notice any difference.

White girl talks to white woman doctor.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk.

Medication for Anxiety

For children with anxiety, they are usually prescribed antidepressants called SSRIs. These are very beneficial mental health treatments for children.

Examples of Antidepressants (yes, their names) for Mental Health Treatments for Children
  • Zoloft
  • Prozac
  • Luvox
  • Paxil
  • Celexa
  • Lexapro

In the short term, kids with anxiety may be prescribed benzodiazepines but they are not as helpful after a month or two. Also, these may be helpful with an anticipated anxious event, such as flying on a plane.

Examples of benzodiazepines (names of them, to help you out, you know)
  • Ativan
  • Klonopin

Medications for Depression

For kids with depression, they are usually given antidepressants. Mental health treatments for children often include antidepressants.

Names of SSRI antidepressants (don't freak out, it's just a type of med)
  • Zoloft
  • Prozac
  • Luvox
  • Paxil
  • Celexa
  • Lexapro
Names of SNRI antidepressants (again, don't freak out, it's just a type of med)
  • Strattera
  • Cymbalta
  • Effexor XR

Also, some doctors may offer a different kind of antidepressant called Wellbutrin, which is another of the mental health treatments for children.

Photo by Dear W

Medication for Sensory Processing Disorders

Currently, there is no medication to treat kids with processing disorders, unless they have another condition with it, such as ADHD. Yeah, I know, sorry about that. The best treatment for processing disorders is Occupational Therapy (OT), which I will talk about below.

Note: medications can have various side effects. So, it is best to thoroughly review the information on the medicine before deciding to give to your child. Side effects may be mild, such as nausea. But, some can be intense, such as suicidal thoughts or actions. Again, please speak to a medical professional about this. These are all things to consider when discussing mental health treatments for children.

Traditional Therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Many of these conditions can benefit from therapy, usually cognitive behavioral therapy. This is usually thought of as talk therapy, although it may look a little different for kids. For adults, it really is a lot of talking; for kids, it involves playing games that encourage kids to express their emotions. I have seen kids really increase their perception of emotions and when they are becoming dysregulated (the child won't call it dysregulated though) from using this kind of therapy. Plus, they have so much fun, they are very willing to go! Just so you know, some kids benefit from a combination of medicine with therapy.

Child finds card and plays game with adult woman. Woman has open laptop on the table too.
Photo by Nicola Barts

Things They Might Do in Therapy

  • Play board games, practice taking turns and handling joys and disappointment
  • Role play, play pretend with dolls situations from play or school, from interacting with other kids
  • Practice deep breathing, centering and yoga, meditation
  • Learn the emotions and what they feel like
  • Make crafts, such as books with motivational sayings, like What I like about myself

Other Therapy, like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

For those with very severe depression, some therapists may recommend DBT. This is for people who cannot manage very painful emotions and may show risky or harmful behavior. For them, these might be the most helpful mental health treatments for children.

What they learn with DBT

  • learn to practice mindfulness (being fully present in the moment and focusing on one thing at a time, without judgment)
  • develop problem solving skills
  • tolerating distress
  • handling difficult situations in a healthy way
  • interacting more effectively with friends and family

Other Types of Therapy and Mental Health Treatments for Children

There are other types of therapy, which may help kids with depression. This includes Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Talk to their doctor about these types of therapy and if they might help.

Occupational Therapy

Now, this is actually pretty widely accepted as one of the best treatments for kids with processing disorders. If you aren't sure if your kid has a processing disorder, go here!

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy is like playtime for kids! Really, they love it so much! I am not trained as an OT (occupational therapist) so it was hard at first for me to understand how it works. They really are so well trained on how the body moves, what different behaviors/movements look like, etc. that they know what will help kids, depending on what they are struggling with. They will also continually have conversations with the mom to ask questions about what's been going on with the kid.

Kids in this therapy will use tools that are really like toys. Common ones used in practices are scooter boards, crash pads (gym mats), balance beams on the ground, swings, rope ladders, cocoon swings, etc. They will sometimes do big body movements, using the tools just described, or they will focus on fine motor skills, and make crafts, cut with scissors, etc.

Black child colors with help from adult.
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya

Does Occupational Therapy Work?

For kids with sensory disorders, yes, it works wonders! They are better able to control their bodies, navigate the environment, etc. They usually perform better in school, extracurriculars such as sports, and at playtime. And, it is so much fun, they will beg you to go!

Cost of Occupational Therapy

Thankfully, some insurance plans cover occupational therapy. But, some plans can be tricky and only cover a certain number of sessions, stating that there is no medical need for it beyond that. If that happens, see if the practice has an awesome person in the office who will hound the insurance folks until they give more sessions!

Mental Health Treatments for Children

Overall, there are various medications and therapies which have been approved to use with children. Most children benefit from a combination of medicine, therapy and even a few types of therapy. Talk to their doctor!

All this info got you feeling stressed? Click below for a self-care freebie!