Parenting Kids With Mental Health Needs: A Game of Whack-A-Mole


All of our kids have some degree of mental health needs. They range from pretty straightforward ADHD to complex, hard to diagnosis mental health stuff. Balancing the never-ending medical appointments, advocating for school accommodations, and shuffling them to typical kid activities like sports and music lessons is overwhelming on an “easy” day. It’s nearly impossible to talk with other parents about our kids’ mental health struggles.

mental health needs

We have a lot feelings flying through our house. Our kids struggle with mood stability, anxiety, and aggression. Our kids are prone to hitting us and calling us mean names. All of this is hard to manage for them and us. I truly believe our kids do not like feeling this out of control. They hate it as much as we do. A tough day for us might include being suspended from school, someone running away, or several phone calls for emergency mental health appointments. Most people can’t understand our day-to-day.

Managing the Moles 

Sometimes it feels like the behaviors are never going to stop popping up. Sometimes it’s old behaviors rearing their ugly heads again. When this happens, it’s always a quick scramble to figure out why. Other times, it’s a new behavior and then we have to figure out if it is an age-appropriate response, a medication side effect, or some manifestation of their mental health needs. Teasing all of this apart is complicated and often feels like there are no right answers.

I used to be embarrassed to share how many medications my kids took or the number of mental health professionals they see. My wife and I both have advanced degrees in mental health counseling and we still felt shame and stigma. Over the years, I’ve learned how to navigate the fine line of sharing our story with others. Instead of naming all of the people our family works with, I might say something like, “the professionals working with our family.” I am determined to break the cycle of shame and stigma for my children. I want the fact they see mental health clinicians to be as normal as a well-child appointment with their pediatrician. 

We Need a Two-Player Game

Parenting is hard. Parenting kids with mental health needs adds an unpredictable layer of challenges. I will be working to address one issue, and suddenly four more pop up. Maybe they disappear quickly. Maybe they hang around for a while. It’s often a lonely place to be. We are so thankful to have a number of friends and resources here in Milwaukee positioned to help our family “hit the moles.”


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