Talking To …

Learning when to seek help for how you’re feeling
August 16, 2022
Dr. Tami Benton

By Daniel, East Norriton Bulldog Bulletin, and Katelynn, Gotwals Healthy Press | It’s normal for kids to be sad or anxious, says Dr. Tami Benton, and she wants them to understand that it’s OK. 

But those feelings can become a problem if they don’t go away. “We don’t label anxiety as a problem until it interferes with your ability to do the things you want to do,” said Dr. Benton, who is psychiatrist-in-chief at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Same with sadness. It becomes a problem when that sadness stays.”

So how do you know if you need help? “When you change from how you were before,” Dr. Benton said, that’s a key sign. “When you are feeling things that prevent you from getting along with the people you love or doing the things that you enjoy, that’s how you know.”

As a children’s psychiatrist, Dr. Benton finds that anxiety, fear, and worry are emotions that could be triggered by something as simple as a test in school, or something bigger, like having issues with family or friends.

She said that “when you’re feeling not quite right and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better,” that’s the time to turn to a trusted adult—a parent or another family member, a teacher, or a school nurse.

Sometimes, Dr. Benton said, kids need to see a therapist who has been trained to help people with behavior or mental health problems. This could happen when a kid is dealing with anxiety, depression, or another serious challenge. “If they’ve changed somehow from being a kid that was fine to being a kid who’s not so fine, that’s when kids come to see me,” she said.

And sometimes, she said, the help that’s needed is to change something at school or at home. Sometimes it’s more complicated. Every situation is different.

Dr. Benton said that understanding the difference between anxiety and fear is an  important skill. Fear is a reaction to something that could really happen. Anxiety “is the sense of fear about something that is likely never to happen.” And developing skills to manage anxiety is really important, she explained.

She recommends finding some ways to replace that worry feeling with “something that will get [you] back into a better place.” That could be deep breathing, taking a walk, talking to a friend, or picturing a place or time that’s more pleasant.

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