Warning Signs Your Child Might Need Therapy
Emotional health and well-being are very important to your child’s development–Don’t miss the signs your child needs help.
If there is a silver lining anywhere at all in the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, it is that the subject of mental health is being more openly discussed with regards to our children. We are all seeing the effects of the isolation, the social changes, the changes to their schooling and their schedules. And many of us are growing concerned that our children and teens may need a bit of help coping with all of these changes by way of some therapeutic services.
It is important to recognize the warning signs that your child or teen may need therapy, whether related to the current pandemic, or to other circumstances in their lives, or due to a possible mental illness or disorder. Whatever the reason our kids may need therapy, it is up to us to recognize the signs and get them the professional mental health care they need.
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How do you know if your child might need therapy?
When a child needs a physical doctor, the signs and symptoms can be a bit easier to see than when a child may be in need of mental health care services. Let’s take a look at some of the indicators there may be a mental health issue that needs attention from a professional therapist. Not all of these guarantee there is a mental health issue, but if you take into consideration the signs and symptoms, what your child is telling you, and all of the extenuating circumstances you can get a clearer picture and make that decision for your child or teen.
Children are dealing with so much stress related to interactions with their friends or students at school, stress about school in general, and many other things. There may be family pressures or stresses that are weighing heavily on their minds. They may be confused about transitional periods they are going through. Oftentimes children have difficulty coming to an adult and asking for help. They can feel very isolated and alone during these times and therapy services may give them the option that they need to talk openly with someone who can share an unbiased opinion with them or offer some guidance. Sometimes simply having someone to talk to is enough to help your child learn to cope.
Also, if your child or teen is open to counseling–why not take them? If they reach out to you for help it is imperative that you take them seriously. When a child asks for help it is our responsibility as adults to guide them and provide them the assistance they need.
Signs, symptoms, and situations that may indicate a need for therapy for your child or teen
Signs and symptoms
- General changes in behavior. This may mean that your child is having different sleeping habits or exhibiting more emotional responses. Anything that seems outside of what is normal for your child’s behavior can be a good indicator that there is something going on beneath the surface.
- Risky behavior. Kids and teens that are having trouble processing stress and emotions will often engage in risky behavior. A therapist can help get to the root of the problem and help your child to learn to make better choices.
- Changes in appetite.
- Exhibiting or communicating feelings of sadness, worry, or self harm.
- Exhibiting anger and having difficulty expressing anger.
- Pulling away from family or friends and choosing to isolate.
- Your child or teen seems to be losing interest in things that they normally enjoy doing.
- A preoccupation with death, dark topics, morbid curiosities, and a general focus on things that seem to be related to death or dying.
- Your child is regressing in behavior. A good example of this is when a young child begins having potty accidents long after potty training is completed.
- Complaints about physical ailments, aches, pains, headaches, tummy aches, and making excuses to avoid activities based on these complaints.
There are many behavioral indicators that can let you know that something is not quite right with your child. It’s a little harder early on when your child is a baby or toddler and they are simply expressing their emotions by way of temper tantrums. But once you get past that point, generally speaking, it’s a little easier to identify negative behavioral issues.
You may hear from your child’s school or teacher reporting that your child is exhibiting a behavior that doesn’t seem normal for them. Perhaps they had been a fairly well behaved child in school and suddenly started biting other people or hitting other people. The sudden aggression could be an indicator that there’s something going on with your child and at the very least they could learn some healthy anger management skills through therapy.
Other behavioral indicators could include crying a lot more often or displaying emotional sensitivity. Of course these things could be happening short-term and could indicate just a bit of stress or lack of sleep but if it appears to be ongoing you may want to consider counseling services for your child.
If your child is normally very talkative and suddenly they are quiet for a long time or withdrawn and that doesn’t seem to be normal for them it could also raise the alarm that there’s something going on beneath the surface that your child is unable to communicate.
While it is normal for most children to have occasional emotional outbursts, sometimes these types of behaviors can suddenly be ongoing or can correlate with other events going on. If these behaviors begin during a particularly stressful time and seem to continue it could be that your child is having trouble processing the stress of changes going on in their life.
There are many mental health issues that could be at play if you begin to see a pattern of behavior that doesn’t quite make sense. Your child’s medical doctor can provide more information for you and suggest counseling services if necessary.
If your child has a family history of mental health care issues they may be at higher risk for developing some of those issues themselves. If you have concerns over mental health issues that run in your family, contact your child’s pediatrician and raise your concerns. There are screening capabilities and testing that can be utilized for your child to come to a diagnosis.
Some mental health issues tend to run in families such as:
- Depression and anxiety
- ADD and ADHD
- Bipolar disorder
These conditions need to be diagnosed by a clinical psychologist who is trained to work with children.
Following a traumatic event
Traumatic events may be a bit different for your children than they would be for you. Obviously if your home catches fire or a family member passes away, it is completely understandable that a child would interpret this as a traumatic event. But what about when their friend bites them on the finger at lunch time and your child can’t seem to stop crying that afternoon. Your child is processing the world on a different level. What may seem like a small incident to you could be a very traumatizing event for them. Perhaps their friend has never hurt them in that way and their friend biting them upset and shocked them in a way that was difficult for them to process and understand.
You should talk to your child about the incident but you may see that your child develops avoidance behavior or suddenly becomes fearful about going to school. While it is difficult to understand sometimes what classifies as a traumatic event for a child, think of it in this way; any change that occurs in your child’s life or anything that happens to them that they find upsetting can be traumatic for your child.
Children manage the stress of traumatic events in many different ways. Some shut down and isolate and suffer in silence and others openly cry and talk about their feelings until they feel better. If your child seems to be handling a traumatic event in a way that you feel they are not processing it in a healthy manner, seek professional guidance from your child’s pediatrician and possibly some therapy to help your child learn healthy coping skills.
If your child is suffering from alienation or bullying by other children and peers, this can also be a devastating thing for your child to endure. Counseling services can help to provide healthy self-esteem building skills, deal with the bullying, and identify and treat any suicidal ideation.
Your child has trouble expressing their emotions in a healthy way
Similar to traumatic events, children process everything that happens to them in individual ways. It is up to us as parents to teach our children how to view, process, and interpret the world around them and respond to it in a healthy manner. It is our job as parents to teach healthy self-esteem and to teach our children how to function within the world with a healthy sense of identity. If your child is struggling with self-esteem or seems to have a difficult time expressing their emotions in a healthy manner, counseling can help them to learn those life skills. If your child seems to be developing coping mechanisms that are not healthy such as overeating, repetitive behaviors, self-harm, self depreciation, or even painful shyness, therapy can help them to learn better ways to process their emotions and express them to others in healthy ways.
You have that gut feeling you can’t shake
If you have a feeling that something just isn’t right with your child, you are probably on to something. You know your child better than anyone and oftentimes as a parent you just have that gut feeling that something is wrong. Without projecting a sense of over-concern onto your child you can possibly suggest to them that a counselor is helpful to just sometimes learn a little bit more about communication and talking about their emotions. Encourage your child that it’s okay to talk with a professional in this manner when it is sometimes hard to talk to a friend or a parent. But if I’ve learned anything through raising three children it is that when I knew something was wrong and ignored that feeling I later came to regret it in a huge way. If you feel something is wrong and your child needs help, get them the help that they need.
What should you do if you believe your child or teen may need therapy services?
Child therapy services are very different from those offered to adults given the differences in development, perception of the world, maturity, communication, and the complex needs of children and teens.
Talk to your child’s doctor
The first thing to do is contact your child’s pediatrician and make an appointment. You may be able to express your concerns over the telephone, but likely your child’s doctor will want to schedule an appointment with you and your child to discuss your concerns. Let them know if you would prefer the appointment to be handled with discretion, meaning without your child being present for some of the conversation so you can speak freely with your child’s doctor.
The doctor can give a referral for a licensed child psychologist or a psychiatric referral, as well as review any medication options they feel is necessary.
How to find a good therapist for your child
Likely you will receive a doctor’s referral for therapy for your child but you may want to find a therapist on your own as well. Your medical insurance may cover some of these services. Check in your community for any sliding-scale therapy centers or community centers that offer counseling services. Your child’s school may also have a guidance counselor that would be willing to meet with you to discuss your child’s mental health needs.
- Cost and insurance coverage
- Convenience–are they taking new clients? Is the location close enough to your home for easy commuting?
- The therapist’s credentials. Ask for their licensure or title so you know how well-trained they are to suit your child’s needs, address more complex issues, diagnose, and/or prescribe medications.
Types of therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
- Family-Focused Treatment (FFT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- General counseling and coping skills therapy
- Art therapy
- Support groups
- Faith-based counseling services
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
- Family therapy
- Meditation and mindfulness therapy
Types of therapists
- Child psychologist
- School guidance counselor
- Licensed clinical therapist
- Licensed clinical social worker
- Licensed professional counselor or mental health counselor
Make sure to verify the credentials of the therapist that you choose and that they are trained to work with the age of your child or teen. It helps to know if they specialize in certain fields such as working with children who have an alcoholic parent or are exposed to drug abuse. Some counselors specialize in trauma or sexual abuse cases or even helping children process the emotional pain of the divorce of their parents.
Therapy is NOT something to be pursued in weakness. It is not something you or your children should feel any shame over. It is no different than enrolling in a class to learn a new skill or going to see the doctor when you have a physical illness. Therapy helps to identify areas of concern within a person’s mental health so that those areas can be addressed, healed, and new skills can be learned to cope with the mental illness or with the stressors causing mental health concerns.
It begins with conversation and observation and a willingness to face the issues head-on. Demonstrating mental health care attentiveness and responsibility will set the standard for your children to take their mental health seriously throughout their lives. It also shows that even if it can get a bit uncomfortable, or the conversations can be difficult, you care about your children’s well-being, both physical and emotional. It shows them you want them to be well and successful in their lives. For a child–this is such an important message for them to receive loud and clear. It can make all the difference.
This article is brought to you by our contributing writers and parents here at the Babienet Parenting Community, where we value the stories of parents just like you! We welcome you to share your journey with us.
Christina M Ward is a mom, grandmother, and writer of lots and lots of words. When she’s not busy obsessing over writing poetry and well-living articles, she is out in nature exploring or doing needlepoint crafts in front of Netflix. She loves books and reading, learning geeky things about nature, and helping other people live their best life.
Warning Signs Your Child Might Need Therapy provides a guide for parents and caregivers with signs and symptoms of children and teens who may need therapy services as well as information about how to find a therapist for your child.