Parents often struggle with deciding what is normal behavior and when it’s time to ask for professional help for their child. Whether or not your child has age-appropriate hyper-activity or ADHD? Is she exhibiting normal teenage angst or has she crossed into depression? What are typical childhood fears vs. an anxiety disorder? It can be a challenge to figure out if this is just a phase, or if your child is crying out for help. As a mental health professional, I truly believe everyone could benefit from mindfulness training and/or counseling! People of all ages need assistance at one time or another in their lives to get through a tough transition, learn how to handle their emotions, and navigate relationships. That being said, I’ve listed below some warning signs that counseling should be treated as more of a necessity than a recommendation for children and adolescents.
Warning Signs To Look for at Home: · Self Harm (cutting, burning, banging head, etc.) · Behavioral Acting out at home (angry outbursts, biting, kicking, hitting, sneaking out) · Bedwetting past age 6 · Sudden increase or decrease in appetite · Sleep issues · Episodes of sadness, crying, or depression · Extreme mood swings · Divorce, death in the family, a big move, or any other significant change · Age regressive behaviors (bedwetting; asking for assistance with tasks they previously performed independently) · Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic events · Witnessing violence to one’s parent or another loved one · Increase of physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches, etc.) · Signs of alcohol or drug use Warning Signs To Look for at School: · Learning or attention problems · Behavioral Acting out at school (angry outbursts, biting, kicking, hitting, skipping school, getting in fights) · Bullying (victim of bullying or bullying other children) · Decline in grades · Decline in interest in school, friends, family, or activities he/she previously enjoyed · Social withdrawal or isolation · Excessive school absences Why is Counseling Necessary? Counseling can be beneficial for children and adolescents with any of the symptoms listed above. The main criteria for seeking counseling is if your child’s level of functioning has declined at home, school, or socially. Some examples of what I mean by “functioning” are: doing age-appropriate chores and hygiene routine, making friends at school, having grades as high as or higher than in years past, and generally reaching the next appropriate milestone without extreme hic-cups (ie: any of the above listed bullet points). Children often need a caring adult – aside from their parent or teacher – to confide in about their deepest, darkest thoughts, fears, and experiences. It is wonderful when children can go to their parent or teacher with their concerns, but sometimes there is stuff they don’t feel comfortable telling the person that their basic survival needs depend on (parents) or their grades depend on (teachers). Counselors offer a trained, objective view and provide tools and techniques to help kids learn how to regulate their emotions, focus their attention, and process life transitions and traumatic events through play therapy techniques (when age-appropriate) or with talk therapy. How Long Will My Child Need Counseling? Of course, it depends on the severity of the issue, but frequently, children do not need long-term therapy. Kids typically have a hard time expressing their needs verbally, and so it comes out “sideways” in acting out behaviors, self-harm, substance use, etc. I’ve found that often-times, once we identify a need that is not being met – more 1-on-1 attention, a sense of belonging, consistent boundaries and rules, processing a traumatic event, increasing freedom and responsibility, giving them a sense of control in their lives, or getting special accommodations at school – the problematic behavior generally goes away. When children and teens feel respected, heard, and understood, healing occurs. Kids don’t usually have much power in their lives, so counseling can be an empowering experience. Kids have an active role in determining their treatment goals and plan how to achieve them with the support of a therapist. Summing it Up Children of all ages, shapes, and sizes can benefit from being seen by a counselor. However, since finances and time do not always make counseling feasible for everyone, it’s important for families to know when it’s a need, not a want, to send their child to see a therapist. I hope listing out the warning signs above and explaining a bit why counseling can provide a unique and helpful relationship and experience to clients, clears up some of your questions and concerns. If you would like to discuss your personal situation with a counselor to assess whether or not it’s time for you or your loved ones to begin counseling, feel free to give us a call!