Parenting a Child with Mental Illness Featured

Written by  Dr. Timothy Sumerlin Monday, 12 March 2018 14:25

Mental HealthWhy are they like this? Can’t the parents do something? It’s a spiritual issue – they just need to pray/evangelize/serve more. Get some meds–that’ll fix them. Just repent!

Perhaps you’ve heard or thought these comments before. All of us either know or are raising children with any variety of mental illnesses. From ADHD, to depression, to anxiety, and any number of other challenges, we live in an era of unprecedented mental health diagnosis’. Below are a few ideas that may help with your parenting.

Be aware of the shame that may be there for you as a parent. Often in the school and church environment, we may find ourselves living in the shadows, afraid of the differences in our children, feelings of judgement of those by “perfect” parents (by the way, no one gets through this life without major challenges), or simply burnt out at the daily grind of parenthood. Be open with others about your specific challenges, get parenting and marriage help as needed, read ample materials about your specific challenge, and continue to love your kid unconditionally.

One of the greatest challenges is to decipher the difference between your child’s diagnosis and what a “regular” child needs in regards to discipline. Remember that your child still has their normal development to grow through. Is this behavior a result of their diagnosis or simply teenage rebellion? Is this temper tantrum a result of their mental health issue or a selfish tirade to be corrected? This can be tricky as we can either over correct (in an area they don’t have much control in) or we can make excuses for them and miss valuable opportunities to discipline and mature our children.

Think resources and team work. Are you working closely with your child’s school counselor? They can often help with counseling, offering resources, and making valuable connections with your child’s teachers. How about a mentor in your church? Often mentors can help by saying the same things we do, but since it comes from someone “cooler” it sticks–whatever works! Use Google and Amazon to find useful reading materials. You becoming an “expert” in this area will not only pay great dividends in raising your child, but will be a blessing for those who come after you with similar needs!

Spend time with your child looking at the heart of Jesus as He spent time with those with special challenges. Show them that sometimes we have challenges in order to draw us closer to Jesus, to see his heart, and bring glory to God (John 9:3). I’ve seen many people become Christians or be strengthened in their faith over the years because of significant challenges they are undergoing.

Finally, realize you are not alone. You are a part of a community in your school and church. You have much to give and much to learn. God has “given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3) and He will not desert you in this noble task of raising you child. God Bless!   

GriefinMotionDr. Timothy Sumerlin is a school counselor and adjunct professor at the University of Denver. He is the director of In Motion Counseling, a church based counseling ministry which includes Disciples In Motion (recovery), The Grief Journey (grief groups) and a variety of seminar style counseling classes. He is a member and elder of the Denver Church of Christ and has been married to his wife Jackie for 32 years. Both of his children serve in churches in China. Grief in Motion is available at

For more information on In Motion Counseling, go to:  

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