by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.
Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness
In the field of pediatrics, healthcare providers are primarily focused on the physical well-being of children and adolescents. They work tirelessly to diagnose and treat various conditions, ensuring that their patients are on a path to recovery. However, in the pursuit of physical health, a critical component of wellness is often overlooked—emotional wellness.
Awareness, understanding, and acceptance of our feelings and our ability to navigate challenges and change are essential for our well-being. Emotional wellness encompasses a broad spectrum of factors, including managing stress, dealing with conflicts in goal-directed ways, and fostering positive relationships with family and friends. When emotional well-being is prioritized, it can have a profound impact on a child's overall mood, behavior, growth, and development.
Emotional wellness plays a significant role in children's physical health as well. Children with greater emotional well-being have better physical health outcomes, including lower rates of chronic illnesses and faster recovery times from acute illnesses (Smith et al., 2018). This underscores the interconnectedness between emotional and physical wellness and emphasizes the need for pediatricians to integrate emotional well-being into their practice.
Pediatricians can administer rapid screening measures, enabling them to effectively identify significant anxiety, depression, attentional, and behavioral problems (Johnson et al., 2019). This allows for timely intervention and the provision of necessary support. By incorporating evidence-based empirical tools into routine clinical visits, pediatricians can quickly evaluate the mental health status of their patients (CPT: 96127). By implementing patient-centered care principles, they can establish a safe and trusting environment that encourages open communication. Once identified, pediatricians can then provide appropriate referrals to mental health professionals, ensuring that children receive the specialized care they need to address their emotional well-being.
Beyond their patients, pediatricians must also recognize the importance of addressing the emotional well-being of parents and caregivers. Children take their cues from the significant adults in their lives, particularly during times of challenge and change. When parents and caregivers are emotionally healthy and equipped with appropriate coping strategies, they can provide the necessary support and guidance for their children (Johnson et al., 2019).
Furthermore, pediatricians need to address their emotional well-being. The demanding nature of their profession, coupled with the emotional toll of caring for sick children, can lead to burnout. Pediatricians with higher levels of emotional exhaustion were more likely to report lower levels of patient-centered communication and engagement (Shanafelt et al., 2017). By practicing self-care and seeking support, pediatricians can prevent burnout and continue to work optimally for the well-being of their patients.
The National Center for Emotional Wellness provides live, dynamic training programs that address the intersection of emotional wellness and pediatrics. Pediatric healthcare providers must prioritize not only the physical health of their patients but also their emotional well-being. By adopting a holistic approach, pediatricians can broaden their range of tools to assess and support the emotional well-being of their patients, parents, caregivers, and themselves.