Our expert sources all cited these options as particularly effective in children with mental illness.
1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps kids break patterns of distorted thinking. A therapist will urge a depressed child to examine a negative thought (“I have no friends”), guide her toward a more realistic viewpoint (“I have two friends, but I’d like more”), and suggest coping strategies (inviting someone new to play). Anxious kids are encouraged to face their worries in incremental doses and to learn coping skills that help in panicky moments.
2. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)
In guided, therapist-led play sessions, Mom and Dad learn to encourage desired behavior with hefty praise and to discourage outbursts by using gentle but firm consequences. PCIT can be helpful for children with DMDD, ADHD, and other behavior disorders starting around age 2. Joan Luby, M.D., director of the early emotional development program at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, says that a modified version of PCIT called PCIT Emotion Development (PCIT-ED) can help depression.
Pharmaceuticals aren’t the recommended first line of treatment in young children, because few have been studied in preschoolers over time. Still, some drugs are considered safe for grade-school-age kids. Stimulants like Ritalin (methylphenidate) are FDA approved for kids 6 and up with ADHD, and Prozac (fluoxetine) is FDA-approved for kids 8 and up with depression.
Read more from the Parents feature "There's Something Wrong With My Child"