Does my kid need to see a therapist?

These three clues may help you decide.

My friends and clients often ask, “How do I know if my child needs help?” For many reasons it is difficult to navigate this territory. Let’s face it, it’s a crap sandwich and nobody wants a bite of that.  Forcing ourselves to recognize that our kid is struggling is something people naturally have trouble accepting. Nobody wants their kid to suffer.

I’ve found that many parents count on hearing responses like, “Your child is fine.” I absolutely get this because I’m a parent as well. As parents, we perpetually worry about our kids and seek reassurance. More often, though — and by the time we begin voicing our concerns — our instincts have already told us that something is awry, but we lack the support and encouragement to seek the help our child needs. Or sometimes it’s just plain old denial and as such, we keep our heads buried…in the sand. Like an ostrich. You know. Honestly.

Families are dynamic and face ever-present challenges. Sometimes those challenges go far beyond “who’s going to bring Molly to dance class?” Significant stressors like divorce, grief/loss, and ongoing conflict in the home can all bring significant emotional issues for a kid. Chances are good that the kid would benefit from therapy to learn some coping strategies and techniques to better help them manage the rocky road ahead. And they don’t even have to exhibit negative behaviors to warrant such action. Like grandma always says, prevention is the best medicine. Grandma’s been around the block a few times, so let the lady speak.

But what does it mean for a kid to need help, anyway?

A healthy and well-adjusted kid usually demonstrates success and interest at school, at home, and while playing or hanging out with their friends. Kids who are succeeding in their development tend to be functioning well in these areas. It may sound overly simplistic, but those three areas really do reveal how well the child is navigating his world. If your kid is having troubles in one of these areas, chances are good that it’s time to seek help. Don’t believe me? Reverse the roles. What if you had zero interest/success at work or had a negative relationships at home, or even isolating yourself and abandoning your friends? Those are pretty good indicators that maybe you have a problem, right? Well, the same applies to your kids. Listen to their actions.

If you want a checklist for “watch” behaviors, remember these:

School. How are her grades? What do his teachers say about her academic progress and participation in class? How is homework going? Does she seem engaged and interested? The answers to these types of questions can indicate struggles or successes in the school environment.

Home. How is he getting along with siblings and parents? Does he participate in home life including meals and other activities with the family? Does he take his responsibilities seriously and fulfill them while at home? What kind of routines at home does he participate in? Does he get adequate sleep and enough nutrition?

Friends. For kids of all ages, navigating peer relationships is difficult as they tend to ebb and flow as the players change frequently. The fluid nature of these relationships is a part of normal human development. Does your child have friends? Does she have a primary friend with whom she is especially close? Does she invite kids over to the house? Is she often invited to other’s homes or parties? Is there any indication of drinking or drug use? Is your child secretive or protective about her use of social media? I encourage parents to closely observe online activity – especially for adolescents. Learning to safely and responsibly navigate social media is a huge issue for the younger generation.

If your family is currently going through periods of high stress (stress beyond the norm), then pay attention. Emotional problems with your child can often go unnoticed as your attention is focused on the stressor. Pay attention.

The bottom line is this: if you’re concerned, talk frankly about your concerns with someone who specializes in helping young people with behavioral and emotional difficulties. Although it’s difficult to be objective when considering how your own kid is functioning in the realms of school, home, and their circle of friends, this first step can help you dismiss or confirm that powerful parental instinct that you’ve developed. Don’t ignore it. It’s your greatest parental asset.

If your instinct tells you that your kid is not functioning well in one of these areas, or if your kid seems depressed or anxious – seek help from a mental health professional. A licensed therapist or counselor can help them develop the skills to cope with life’s struggles and provide the encouragement (and strategy) required to get back on track.

Please check back for my future posts on how to find the right therapist for your child

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