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May is Mental Health Month

Hundreds of parenting books and blogs stress the importance of good nutrition, active play and proper sleep to nurture healthy growth and development in children. However, it can be difficult for parents to know whether challenging behaviors or delays in learning are part of their child's development or are an indication of cognitive delays, depression, anxiety, attention deficit or other emotional concerns.

Thanks to a grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota's Early Childhood Mental Health Program has expanded its services in Alexandria and Willmar. Designed to promote healthy social and emotional development in young children, the program offers many assessment and treatment opportunities. One of the most common and effective tools is play therapy.

Therapists use puppets, dolls, dollhouses, art supplies and other age-appropriate toys to help children process issues. This tailored approach provides children a safe distance from their problems and allows expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to their development.

"Each child's development pattern is as unique and individual as the child," Shaskey-Setright said. "Behaviors like tantrums and fussiness are a natural aspect of a child's growth. If a behavior seems excessive or there are concerns of development delays, a diagnostic assessment can offer peace of mind."

Behavioral issues in children can stem from their own experiences or family circumstances, including loss of a loved one, low self-esteem, difficulty making friends, parental addictions or domestic abuse.

Here are warning signs your child may be struggling emotionally:

• Sleep problems.

• Feeding problems.

• Inability to separate from parents.

• Feeling anxious or fearful.

• Appearing withdrawn or lacking interest in activities.

• Exhibiting aggressive behavior.

• Inability to follow rules or comply with expectations.

• Peer relational problems.

Early childhood mental health services are available through Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. Free assessments and treatment are available for children younger than age 5 who are uninsured or underinsured and living in Kandiyohi, Swift, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Yellow Medicine, Renville, Meeker, McLeod, Douglas, Grant, Stevens, Pope or Traverse counties.

For more information, contact Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota in Alexandria at (320) 762-5124 or in Willmar at (320) 235-5411.

LSS Counseling and Family Resources, a service of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, offers a full range of mental health services for children, adults, couples and families. LSS offers appointments at clinic locations throughout Minnesota, as well as in-home, school and community-based services. The vision of the organization is that all people have the opportunity to live and work in community with safety, dignity and hope.

For more information, visit