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 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, 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 988 or search our online database:

      • Enter your zip code
      • Select categories:
        • Mental Health
        • Support Groups
        • Family/parenting


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: September 2023