From a young age, kids face pressure from school demands, parents and friends — just to name a few. Often, these stresses are just part of growing up, but sometimes they might cause deeper issues. Would you know what signs to look for in your child — signs indicating they may need some time with a therapist?
Perhaps your teen is anxious about an upcoming test. Maybe your second grader is having trouble with a kid on the bus. Or, your 12-year-old is dealing with peer pressure. These are all things that our children will likely struggle with as they grow up, and it’s normal to experience a roller coaster of emotions in life. But how do you know if your child might benefit from speaking with a therapist?
Sharlene Hill, MFT, RBH, therapist at Renown Behavioral Health, says that it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer and parents need to watch for changes in their child’s emotions or behaviors.
“It is normal for children to experience some degree of ups and downs with their moods, sleeping habits, friendships, and time spent with family, versus alone and with peers,” she says. “Parents can look to what is normal for their child, given his or her temperament and stressors in life.”
The Key: Watch for Changes in Mood
According to Sharlene, the below changes in behavior are ones parents should watch for in their kids.
Children 2 to 10 years of age:
- Being clingy with adults
- Crying easily
- Being fearful
- Throwing tantrums
- Having difficulty with sleep
- Acting out aggressively
- Experiencing problems at school and with peers
Children 11 to 18 years of age:
- Lack of motivation, decrease in grades
- Isolating from family and friends
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Changes in personal hygiene
- Physical complaints such as stomach aches, headaches, body aches, fatigue
- Decreased concentration and decision-making
- Excessive guilt
- Irresponsible behavior such as tardiness or truancy
- Becoming more easily upset or increased conflict with others
- Sadness, anger, anxiousness
- Decreased self-confidence
- Alcohol, drug use or promiscuity
Sharlene points out that the above examples are just general guidelines and reminds parents that it’s important they learn what is developmentally appropriate for their child emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally. “A significant degree of change may warrant a closer look to rule out depression or anxiety,” she says.
When speaking with your child about going into therapy, Sharlene says it’s important to communicate a few basic things to them.
- They are not going to therapy as a punishment for poor behavior, grades, etc.
- They are not crazy.
- They don’t need to be fixed.
Parents may feel they don’t want to force their child into therapy, however Sharlene reiterates the decision to begin therapy falls to the parent. “A child’s brain is not yet fully developed, and if they are experiencing depression or anxiety that further complicates their ability to make sound judgments, they will need the guidance of their parents and possibly a therapist.”
She says that parents can encourage their child, and teens especially, to accept therapy by explaining that it brings a sense of relief when talking with someone who won’t judge them and is neutral to the situation. “Therapy is also helpful for solving problems related to family, school and friends,” she adds.
Renown Behavioral Health offers services specifically tailored to children and teenagers ages 2 through 18. For more information or to request an appointment, visit their website.