Children’s Mental Health

It can be hard to tell the difference between behaviors and emotions that are typical of a child’s development and those that signal a potentially serious issue.

If a child is presenting an immediate risk of danger to themselves or others, call 911.  If a child talks about self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trained crisis workers are available to talk, assess the level of risk, and develop a plan to help keep the child safe.  In South Dakota, this line is answered by the Helpline Center.

Is this just a stage or is this a problem?

Challenging behaviors and turbulent emotions are a part of growing up, but some children develop mental health issues – the most common are attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and behavior disorders. There are signs that a child needs help.  If the behavior:

  • Lasts for a few weeks or longer
  • Causes distress for the child or the family
  • Interferes with daily functioning

What do you do?

If you are concerned about a child’s mental health, taking the first steps towards help include:

  • Talk with others involved in the child’s life – teachers, daycare workers, coaches and other parents may have helpful insights.
  • Talk with the child’s pediatrician. A physical exam may uncover a reason for the problem.
  • Ask for a referral to a mental health professional who works with children. An evaluation will help determine the best way to help a child struggling with mental health issues.

Treatment options

Treating a child’s mental health issues can help reduce problems at home and school.  Therapy options for children include:

  • Play therapy
  • Talk therapy
  • Behavior therapy
  • Parent training for behavior management
  • Cognitive-behavior therapy
  • Medication may help some children

An explanation of various therapies and what works best for various problems can be found at

  •  For more information on children’s mental health, call 211 or search our online database:
    • Try the following keyword search terms:
      • Adolescent/Youth Counseling
      • Autism Therapy
      • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
      • Children’s Psychiatric Inpatient Units
      • Children’s/Adolescent Residential Treatment Facilities
      • Developmental Screening
      • Parent Counseling
      • Parent Support Groups
      • Play Therapy
      • Specialized Pediatric Evaluation


Disclaimer: This HelpSheet is developed by the Helpline Center. HelpSheets provide a brief overview of the designated topic. For more information, call 211 or text your zip code to 898211.

 Updated: July 2021