Neurologist examines mental health in children

Schedule, environment, connection are crucial to a child’s mental health, doctor says

So many transitions are happening for kids as they go from elementary to middle and high school.

It’s not just changing schools, there is also a lot of brain development involved.

The experiences during that time can have a lasting impact.

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Neurologist and mental health expert Dr. Romie Mushtaq joined Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden on Florida’s Fourth Estate to talk more about kids and their mental health.

“Our brains start developing from the time we are in utero and they are developing for our entire life. There is a key development period until the age of about seven to eight, but it really goes until the age of 25,” Mushtaq said.

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She said that’s important to note.

“As we grow, there is a little bit of nature, meaning our genes, and nurture is the biggest part of it, meaning what kind of social environment we are in, what kind of home life we have, our sleep-wake cycles. All of those things play a role in how our mental well-being develops and our mental health,” Mushtaq said.

But, she also points out that mental well-being and mental health are often confused.

She said mental well-being “is our ability to cope and how happy we feel and joyful, our mental health, we start looking at is there disease.”

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“Everything impacts (children’s) mental well-being,” Mushtaq said.

However, she added that there are three crucial things that children need: schedule, environment and connection.

She said when it comes to schedules parents and guardians should focus on regularity so their child can feel safe and have a sense of rhythm.

If you are looking for signs your child may be facing mental challenges Mushtaq said to look out for “an abrupt change in behavior.”

She said this includes giving up things they once loved, even if that is playing online.

“The other thing is changing what they are eating drastically,” the doctor said. “A change in sleep and energy (is another warning sign).”

“It’s those early indicators that when we are sitting as doctors the parents go back and say ‘oh yeah this has been going on for months,” Mushtaq added.

When it comes to talking to children, Mushtaq reminds parents that simply asking them how their day was and stopping at “fine” is not enough.

She encourages parents to ask specific questions about what was good and bad about their day and then to “allow a child to feel their feelings.”

“If we give a safe space for a child to be angry, frustrated, have an outburst, go off, most emotions will calm down within 90 seconds to three minutes and now you just gave them that safe space to feel those feelings,” she said.

If your child is struggling Mushtaq recommends reaching out to your health insurance company to see what your benefits are. She said school counselors are also good resources and pediatricians.

“It is now mandated by the American College of Pediatricians that, starting at age 8, to start doing annual mental health screenings for anxiety and at 11 for depression in all children.” she said

To connect with Mushtaq go to

About the Author:

Tiffany produces the News 6+ Takeover at 3:30 p.m., Florida's Fourth Estate and Talk to Tom.