Addressing Behavioral Health Concerns in the Primary Care Setting
Jun 28, 2021
It is common to have concerns about what you can do to help your child grow and develop. The pandemic has made parenting even harder and stress has caused some children to act out or withdraw. Your pediatrician’s office is a great place to go for help.
How Can Pediatricians Help?
Every pediatrician is trained to be an expert in helping children and their caregivers address behavioral and mental health concerns. Concerns about behavioral and mental health are common and your pediatricians have access to resources to help you. Primary care network may have social workers and psychologists who are ready to help as needed.
What Types of Concerns Do Primary Care Providers See?
Parents and caregivers often ask for advice on how to address a wide range of common behavior concerns, such as not listening, temper tantrums and lying. Toilet-training challenges also come up a lot. These are all part of normal development, but learning how to address these concerns in a positive way can be helpful.
What Happens During the Exam?
Your provider will ask questions, review your child’s medical history, complete a medical exam and observe your child. Common questions include asking about your child’s sleep history, your family history and other factors that might impact their behaviors. In some instances, your pediatrician may want to talk with your child’s teacher, coaches, or others they interact with on a regular basis to learn more. Referrals are sometimes needed, but many concerns can be addressed at your doctor’s office thanks to the integrated model of care offices are now providing, such as an in-house social worker or psychologist.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
Be as specific as you can about the symptoms you are seeing and when. For example, is your child having problems at certain times or certain places? Did a significant event just happen in your child’s life (for example, divorce, a fight with their best friend or a poor grade report)? The most important thing to remember is that an evaluation of behavioral concerns can sometimes take a while and involve multiple visits or seeing other specialists. Try to be patient and remember that pediatricians want the best long-term outcome for their patients. A quick diagnosis instead of an accurate one can have harmful effects in the long term.
Whether you discuss behavioral or mental health concerns with your pediatrician at your annual well-child visit or another time, doing so at all is what matters. Behavioral and mental health is no different than physical health: the sooner you address a problem, the sooner your child can achieve good health outcomes.
Dane A. Snyder, MD, is the section chief in the Division of Primary Care Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. In addition to his administrative duties, he provides direct patient care at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Hilltop Primary Care Center.
Alex Kemper, MD
Primary Care Pediatrics
Alex R. Kemper, MD, MPH, MS, is the division chief of Primary Care Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. His research focuses of a wide range of preventive services.
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