How to Tell When Your Child Needs a Therapist (and How to Find One)

How to Tell When Your Child Needs a Therapist (and How to Find One)

The past year has been rough on all of us, including our kids. Many of our kids are still too young to be vaccinated and yet they will be expected to return to in-person school in the fall, where in addition to the normal stressors of school, there will be the added stress of processing the events of the last year. Add the fact that many kids also had additional stressors, such as a family member getting sick, a parent losing their job, or any number of other pandemic-related issues, and that’s a lot.

“Some kids may be hesitant or feeling a little anxious about reconnecting, and they might need a little support,” said Melissa Goldberg-Mintz, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

If you think your child may need additional help, there are a number of signs to look out for, as well as resources to take advantage of.

Watch for major behavioural changes

A major sign that your child needs help are any major behavioural changes. This includes destructive behaviours, whether aimed at others or themselves, such as self-harm, alcohol or drug abuse, as well as disruptive behaviours, such as acting out in school or getting in fights.

Other signs include excessive worrying or sadness, isolating from family and friends, changes in eating and sleeping habits, as well as any signs of regression, such as bedwetting, tantrums, and excessive clinginess.

Don’t overlook quiet changes

Major behavioural changes are a big red flag, but many children try hard to hide their struggles from their parents. As hard as they may try, though, it tends to inevitably come out sooner or later.

Goldberg-Mintz compares children hiding their pain to holding a beach ball under the water. “It doesn’t stay underneath the water, it’ll come flying up,” she said. “Not only that, it takes a lot of energy to keep it under. That’s what kids who are trying to hide their pain are doing, they’re pushing it under the surface.”

For parents who are dealing with their own issues, it can be easy to overlook the quiet signs that your child may be struggling. “Day-to-day life is stressful enough,” said Goldberg-Mintz. “If there’s not any of the loud acting-out behaviours, it can be easy to just go on with the status quo.”

Some of the more subtle signs might be if your child is less interested in being with their friends or participating in their usual activities. If this is the case, it’s best to be proactive so your child can get the help they need before they reach a crisis point.

Your paediatrician and school are good resources

If you think your child needs extra help, the first places to turn to are your paediatrician’s office, as well as your school. Your paediatrician’s office should have a list of therapists they can recommend, as well as suggestions on different treatment options. Meanwhile, your school might have a counsellor for your child to talk to, as well as a list of therapists they can recommend.

Parents make a big difference

Even if you can’t protect your child from all the bad things happening in the world, being there for them can make all the difference. When it comes to surviving childhood trauma, parents can make all the difference, with the biggest factor in whether a child will thrive being the parent-child relationship.

“The parent-child relationship is crucial to a child’s healing and thriving,” Goldberg-Mintz said. “Parents who are able to have a warm, close relationship with their children, these are the kids who do the best.”

Being a parent means being forced to accept that you can’t protect your child from all the bad things in the world, including all of the stress and fear of the last year. But with your support, which in some cases means finding them outside help, your children can thrive.

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