Are you a parent looking out for signs your child needs counseling? You may find yourself concerned about your child, nervous about their struggle, and searching for a solution.
Childhood is not all sunshine and rainbows. As a parent, you know this. Learning new things, brain and body changes, and coping with the ever-present fluctuating circumstances of life inevitably come with challenges.
But when your child is experiencing longer-term concerns, such as self-injury behaviors or significant changes in sleeping or eating habits, consider reaching out to a professional. This post explains common behaviors your family can address. It also identifies signs that signify outside help may be necessary.
Why Do Children Need Counseling?
Childhood is an exciting, adventurous time in a person’s life. But growing and changing can come with turbulence along the way. Sometimes, this turbulence can be a bit too much for you to handle as a parent or other caring adult.
Children go to counseling for a myriad of reasons. They might be struggling with anxiety, trauma-related disorders, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or other mental health conditions.
But, some children go to counseling for life-related stressors that aren’t necessarily qualifying mental health diagnoses, such as parents’ divorce, social struggles at school, peer/friend difficulties, or the death of a loved one.
It can be challenging to decide if counseling would help the struggle your child is experiencing. Take into consideration the following distinctions between “growing pains” versus what might indicate an escalating issue.
Growing Pains vs. Escalating Issues
- Consider Developmental Changes – Depending on your child’s age, they may be going through a major developmental change that is affecting their behavior. For example, suppose your child is reaching puberty. In that case, the hormonal changes occurring can lead to behavior changes, such as wanting more time alone and with friends or being interested in sexual relationships. These are typical behaviors of newer adolescents. But, if you notice that your preteen is withdrawing from most or all of their social activities when they had previously been a social butterfly, check-in with them.
- Frequency – Pay attention to the frequency of the behavior that concerns you. Are your toddler’s temper tantrums occasional and mild, or have they been getting more intense, lasting longer, and practically shaking the foundations of your house with their intensity? If the latter is true, consider speaking with a mental health professional trained in children’s behavioral issues.
- Know Your Family History – While psychologists still can’t pinpoint exact reasons for mental illness, most concede that they have something to do with inheriting certain genes. A family history of anxiety disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or depressive disorders make it more likely that a child will also experience mental health issues. Consider your family history when thinking about care for your child. This history is something that a mental health professional will ask you about in an initial interview, so be sure to tell them what you know.
Signs to Watch For
The following factors indicate that counseling could benefit your child or family:
- Traumatic Event – If your child experienced the death of a loved one, a divorce, or an accident (like a car wreck, medical issue, or an injury), counseling could be beneficial to address symptoms of trauma. Unaddressed trauma can cause problems later in life. There are plenty of therapeutic options for children who experience trauma, some that involve just the child and some that involve the whole family.
- Disruptive Behavior – If your child displays repeated disruptive behavior at home and in the classroom or other settings, counseling could address this behavior. Therapists can help your child implement calming techniques, practice stress reduction, or learn other positive coping skills that replace the disruptive behavior.
- Risky Behavior – If your child is engaging in risky behavior, such as drinking alcohol or using drugs, counseling can aid in their recovery. Look for a therapist specializing in addiction and recovery or substance use issues.
- Regression – If your child regresses to behavior that isn’t appropriate for their developmental level, that’s a sign your child might need therapy. Regression is when a child reverts to certain behaviors. These can include sucking their thumb, throwing tantrums after toddlerhood, using “baby talk” when they are capable of speaking in full sentences, or acting less independent and acting clingy. Regression is often a sign of stress. Counselors can help discover the source of this behavior and help you and your child deal with their stress in more positive ways.
- Intense Emotions – If your child is dealing with frequent sadness, worry, anxiousness, or anger, they may benefit from counseling. Intense emotions happen for everyone at various points in life, but if your child is angry or sad day in and day out, therapy can help.
- Isolation – If your child is spending an increasing amount of time wanting to be alone, this may be a reason to get professional help. While some level of increasing independence is common during adolescent years, withdrawing could be a sign of stress or depression.
Therapy and Counseling Options
You’ve decided it’s time to seek counseling or therapy for your child. What approach is best? While the terms “counseling” and “therapy” are often used interchangeably, counseling is usually shorter-term for acute behavior issues, and therapy is more progressive and longer. Either option could be beneficial for your child, depending on their issue.
The following are approaches to treatment that you might consider for your child:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the more popular forms of therapy due to its structured approach and proven benefits. CBT is an excellent option for children dealing with anxiety, stress, or trauma. It focuses on examining and changing thoughts which, ideally, leads to changes in behavior.
- Exposure Response Prevention – Exposure Response Prevention is an approach linked to CBT because it uses challenging thoughts to lead to behavior change. ERP is most commonly used in children with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to decrease anxiety surrounding a stimulus. It also can treat children with anxiety or dealing with phobias.
- Play or Art Therapy – Play therapy and art therapy can benefit children experiencing a range of mental health issues. Both types of therapy rely on creativity to allow children to open up and communicate (through play or art) how they are feeling. Play and art therapy are not the same as an art class or playtime. Therapists train to engage children in activities that progress the therapeutic process. Both types of therapy can be particularly effective for children experiencing trauma.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is an approach to therapy that allows people to be aware of and understand their thoughts and feelings while simultaneously recognizing that they can change them. DBT is beneficial for adolescents experiencing suicidal ideation, self-injury, anxiety, depression, and substance use.
How All Counseling Can Help
Realizing your child needs therapy can be difficult for you, your child, and your family as a whole. All Counseling’s therapist directory can help find the right counselor for your child. Additionally, if you’re struggling with your child needing help, the directory can help you find a therapist of your own.