If your child is acting unusually or out of character at home, in school, or with friends, you may be wondering if and when you need to take your child to see a therapist or psychologist.
As parents, we all want the best for our kids, and it may make a big difference to look for the warning signs that your child may need to talk to someone about what’s bothering them. It’s important you know that this is not at all a matter of bad parenting on your part, that your child is exhibiting these symptoms, or that they need to see a therapist. In fact, if your child is displaying warning signs of depression, anxiety, distress, learning disorders, or is acting out of character, taking your child to see a specialist may be exactly what they need.
Here are six of the biggest warning signs that your child may need to see a therapist, counselor, or psychologist, taken from the experts.
In This Post:
- 1. They are Struggling in School
- 2. They’ve grown detached or isolated from friends and family
- 3. Signs of Regression
- 4. Your child frequently expresses negative behavior
- 5. Your child exhibits a sense of hopelessness
- 6. Your child’s emotions or behavior have taken a downturn and you don’t know what to do
1. They are Struggling in School
Whether your child is struggling in school due to emotional problems, or they are having emotional problems due to struggling in school, the outcome remains the same: before you panic, you should probably take your child to see a counselor. This is the case whether they’re in kindergarten or high school. “Before you sound the bells and whistles over whether your child has a learning disorder such as ADHD, just take him or her into see a therapist that specializes in working with children for a few sessions,” says Sara Allen, LMSW, a therapist that frequently works with children and specializes in play therapy. “It may just be that something is bothering your child, or that he or she is having some problems grasping a particular subject, but you won’t know until you talk to a specialist”. It is important to take your child to a therapist early on though, Sara says, as intervening early on can benefit them both academically and emotionally later on.
It’s also important to communicate early and often with your child’s teachers and counselors. Work with them and make them your allies in protecting your child academically and emotionally. Teachers have a lot of experience with kids, and may spot learning difficulties or emotional issues before you do, so it’s important to touch base with your child’s teacher often.
2. They’ve grown detached or isolated from friends and family
Of course, kids outgrow friends, and teenagers will almost always become detached or isolated from family, but if your child is completely alienating themselves from all of their friends, this may be a warning sign, especially if it’s coincided by depression or anxiety. If your child used to love to hang out with his or her friends, and they suddenly don’t, this may be a warning sign.
Talk to your child. Ask them if they are feeling stressed out or sad. Are they spending lunchtime and recess alone? Is something bothering them? Are they being bullied, or do they just lack interest in spending time with friends?
If this social isolation coincided with a recent event, especially one that might affect their mental health, or even if not, you should talk to your teacher or the school counselor. If your child is quiet even around you, and doesn’t want to open up about what it bothering them, there is where child therapists excel. If your child is younger, there is a good chance they will open up to a therapist during play therapy.
3. Signs of Regression
Regression is when your child’s behavior and/or emotional state go back to that of an earlier age. Some examples of this, depending on age, are a return to bedwetting, tantrums after they’ve grown out of them, whining, crying, dependency where there was growing independence, and other behaviors of a younger child.
Again, this may be a cry for attention during a divorce or birth of a baby brother or sister. And while that is fairly normal, children may help processing the emotions and changes that they’re going through. The younger children are, the more they need help expressing and processing their emotions, and child and play therapists are great at helping children express and process life changes and what is bothering them.
4. Your child frequently expresses negative behavior
If your child was well-behaved (for the most part), and is suddenly throwing tantrums, breaking things, misbehaving in school, bullying other kids, or crying out for attention in class, this is another warning sign that something is bothering them. This may be the case if you’ve had a baby or told your child you will be having another baby, if you’re going through or have had a divorce, if your child has experienced the death of a loved one or pet, or other things have occurred that are bothering them or they need help expressing.
Child and play therapists are really good at diagnosing and working with children through these types of behavior. When this is the case, it is almost always the case that something is bothering them, or they are having trouble coping with life or family changes.
5. Your child exhibits a sense of hopelessness
“I’m such a loser,” “I have no friends,” “maybe I should just run away;” these are warning signs of a feeling of hopelessness or despair in your child.
If these feelings of sadness, isolation, or hopelessness become persistent or chronic, this may be a symptom of depression or other issues like ADHD, especially if grades, behavior, or moods change in tandem with these symptoms. If your child is exhibiting signs of depression or distress for moderate to long periods of time, it’s important to take your child to a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist to see if it’s serious and treatable with therapy or medication.
6. Your child’s emotions or behavior have taken a downturn and you don’t know what to do
If at any point in raising your child, you feel that you are out of your depth, or your child may be in need of help or even just talking to someone, it’s a good idea to see a therapist or other specialist. You should never feel powerless in your parenting of your child, and it’s never a sign of weakness or bad parenting on your part to have your child see someone to talk to about it. Child therapists specialize in working with your child in ways that your child feels safe and comfortable, and with play therapy, your child may not even know they are getting counseling while they play with their new friend!