Being a parent comes with new challenges each day. It’s often a struggle to know when those challenges are par for the course and when there’s a deeper underlying issue at play.
This paradox leaves many parents wondering when they should take their child to a professional for counseling. Here are some common signs that your child might need help to process their emotions and get back on track.
Their Behavior Changes Dramatically
Children’s emotions can be volatile at times. Toddler parents are well aware of tantrums that come out of nowhere, while teen parents have long commented on sudden sullenness and moodiness. These fluctuations can make it challenging to determine what’s normal.
If your child’s behavior changes seemingly overnight and doesn’t appear to course correct, try to get to the root of what’s wrong. If they seem to be slipping further into this unusual behavior, consider taking them to a counselor.
They’re Facing Big Changes at Home
Change can be overwhelming for everyone. While children are resilient and adaptable, sometimes the changes are too much to handle on their own. If your family is going through a big life event, it’s often worth taking a proactive approach to getting support.
Keep in mind that while death and divorce are common triggers, it’s not always negative changes that affect children. If you’re having another child or getting married to someone new, these positive life events can still bring up a lot of emotions and struggle. If your child is struggling with a major change, it might be time to seek for professional help.
They Start Making Worrying Comments
Sometimes there are a lot of verbal red flags when a child is struggling. These often present as worrying comments about their place in the world. A child who engages in negative self-talk could benefit from professional help.
Some examples of negative self-talk include calling themselves stupid or ugly. They may also say things like, “no one likes me” or “no one would care if I was gone.” Additionally, if your child becomes preoccupied with death, seek a counselor.
Note that it’s common for kids to be curious about death and ask questions, especially following news coverage about disasters or the loss of someone close to them. However, if it becomes an obsession, it’s time to seek help.
They Become Isolated
Teenagers often become isolated from their families to an extent as they try to find their own identity and path. However, when your child starts isolating from their friends and peers, there’s a reason for concern.
If your child starts feeling anxious about social events or avoiding their friends, it might be time to seek professional guidance.
Their Sleep Becomes Disrupted
Changes in sleep patterns are another common childhood issue. As children get older, their hormones and growth impact how well they sleep. As many overtired parents can attest, some children are never great sleepers.
However, if there’s a dramatic change in their sleep patterns, this is a sign of a deeper issue. If your child starts having night terrors or wets the bed, it’s time to drill down and find out what’s going on. Insomnia is another issue that teens often contend with and can be a subset of depression and anxiety. When these notable changes occur, it’s time to seek help.
Their Eating Habits Change
Like sleep, kids are often fickle with their eating habits. They may eat you out of house and home while going through a growth spurt, then lack an appetite for weeks. Some children will decide they don’t like something in the middle of eating it.
If your child starts avoiding family meals or no longer eats in front of you, it could be a sign of disordered eating. If you notice this behavior, start tracking it and reach out for help.
They Engage in Self-Harm
Self-harm is one of the more obvious cries for help and indicators that professional counseling is needed. Self-harm can range from cutting and burning oneself to pinching or hitting. Anything that intentionally causes harm to one’s body could fall under the umbrella of self-harm.
If you discover that your child is engaging in self-harm, seek help immediately.
They Become More Anxious or Obsessive
It’s normal for children to feel anxious about certain events or situations. Whether it’s the first day of school or the impacts of the global pandemic, it’s normal to feel fear and worry.
However, when your child starts worrying about every little thing or becomes obsessive over a certain issue to the point where it interferes with their daily activities, it’s time to seek help. Anxiety often presents as immense pressure on oneself to perform— for example, having a meltdown because they got a B instead of an A on a test.
Regression is another sign that immediate professional help is needed. Young children will often regress slightly when a new sibling enters the picture— this is normal attention-seeking behavior.
However, when your child loses their independence and develops separation anxiety or starts wetting the bed after being potty trained for years, there’s something else going on. Seek the guidance of a professional counselor to help identify and correct the issue.
They Become Destructive
Destructive behavior is a sign that something is happening in your child’s life that isn’t quite right. If your child starts intentionally damaging property, causing physical harm to others, or deliberately doing things they know will get them in trouble, they may need professional help.
If you notice these changes or actions, reach out as soon as possible. Try to determine if there are any big changes in your lives that could have triggered this response or if there’s something else going on.
Fighting the Stigma Around Professional Help
Many parents are still hesitant to seek professional counseling due to the stigmas around mental health treatment. Your child needing counseling doesn’t mean anything is wrong with them and is no cause for shame. Sometimes it can be beneficial to get an outside perspective and expert advice on how to navigate the challenges of parenting.