Authored by Dr. Michelle Murray on May 14, 2020

Have you ever wondered if your child is struggling with mental health? How does a parent know the difference between a child’s regular personality and a mental health issue that should be addressed?

It is challenging to know the difference between a personality trait and a mental health issue because a child is still growing and developing. How personality traits and mental health symptoms manifest will both vary from year to year because a child is not done changing.

So then what is the difference? Personality traits are qualities of character, actions and attitudes that sets one person apart from another, whereas a mental health issue is a significant and repetitive change in thinking, emotions and/or behavior. Even if a child has a personality trait that is not particularly adoring, a personality trait in and of itself does not lead to disruptions in day-to-day functioning. While a personality trait can play off of mental health and mental health can exacerbate personality traits, a real mental health issue will lead to distress and consistent problems in social, educational, and/or family functioning, to the point that it disrupts the regular routines and expectations related to activities of daily living.

When assessing whether or not to be concerned, do not let your displeasure of a particular personality trait lead you to assume that your child has a mental health issue. On the flip side, do not brush off a serious and repetitive change in thinking, emotion, and behavior as normal behavior that will go away with time.

The fact is, whether or not the issue is related to personality or a mental health issue, if your child’s behavior leads to distress and disrupts functioning and activities of daily living, it is best to assume that something is going on with your child that needs to be addressed. In this case, it is best to err on the side of caution and seek professional help.

 

Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.