Seeing a therapist for the first time can be nerve-wracking for anyone; as a parent, making the decision to seek out therapy for your child may feel especially daunting. Every child develops at their own pace, making it hard to know if certain behaviors are a cause for concern or simply a phase. Below are a few factors to consider if you are wondering whether counseling is appropriate for your child.
Social Problems: Obviously, every child will have some issues with their peers (hello middle school!). However, if your child repeatedly struggles to positively engage with their classmates or playmates, they may benefit from therapeutic intervention. Whether they are experiencing low self-esteem, anxiety, or lack of emotional regulation, there are many fun and engaging ways through which counselors can help build skills and strengths that will improve social functioning.
Excessive or Absent Emotion: If your child displays excessive emotion (fear, anger, sadness) to relatively small triggers, is unable to calm themselves down, or is unresponsive to your attempts to comfort them, it may be time to seek a professional opinion. At the other end of the spectrum, if your child has limited emotional expression, especially in situations that would typically trigger emotional displays, they could benefit from assistance in developing their emotional awareness and regulation.
Family History: While a family history of mental health issues doesn’t guarantee that your child will experience emotional or behavioral problems, it does increase the likelihood. If you have a family history of mental health diagnoses like depression, anxiety, or ADHD, proactive therapeutic intervention can help build up resiliency and lead to better long-term outcomes later in life.
Self-Destructive Behaviors: This category includes cutting, unhealthy eating patterns, skin-picking, and hair pulling. If you suspect that your child is engaging in any of these self-harming behaviors, it’s always a good idea to seek professional help. Even if it is only a single occurrence, it’s important to assess the underlying emotions and motivations in order to ensure your child’s health and safety.
If your child is struggling, you may be tempted to blame yourself or feel insecure about your parenting choices. Always remember that as a parent you are the expert on your child. While a good therapist will make suggestions and observations, they will also recognize that you are the greatest resource your child has and will empower you to better meet your child’s unique needs.