Parents often wonder how to know when they should seek therapy or counseling for their child. They may think that problems are not serious enough or hope that it is just a phase that their child will grow out of. Here are some common signs that your child may need some behavioral or mental health intervention:
Sudden changes in appetite or hygiene
Increased irritability or anger outbursts
Frequent crying spells
Frequent negative statements about self
Increase in nightmares, poor sleep, or bed-wetting
Isolation or loss of interest in activities that used to be fun
Sudden drop in grades
Change in energy level, either unusually tired and lethargic or excessively energetic
Aggression, such as hitting, kicking, or breaking things
Self harm, such as biting, cutting, or hitting self
Bullying or being bullied
Frequent lying or stealing
Frequent physical complaints, such as stomachaches or headaches (see your pediatrician first to rule out medical causes)
Some children will be able to tell their parents how they are feeling, but many will not be able to verbalize this well. Children, even adolescents, may not have all the words to explain how they are feeling emotionally, may be embarrassed or scared to ask for help, or may not want to worry their parents. Children often show us that something is wrong through their behavior, so parents should be aware that a significant change in behavior may signal a need for therapy.
If your child has several of the symptoms on the list above or has had a significant change in their behavior, it is best to seek help early instead of waiting too long. The earlier that problems are addressed, the more effective treatment will be and the sooner your child and family can get back to a more enjoyable life. Problems that have continued for several months or years will often be harder to change, and unresolved problems may have led to the development of additional challenges.