There are times when children, like adults, can benefit from psychological therapy. Psychologists can help children and families cope with stress and a variety of emotional and behavioral issues. Therapy can help a child develop problem-solving skills and also teach them the value of seeking help. Many children need help dealing with stress associated with homework, bullying, or peer pressure. Others need help to discuss their feelings about family issues, particularly if there’s a major transition, such as a divorce, move, or serious illness.
Identifying signs in your child that may suggest she needs to see a Psychologist is important. Significant life events such as the death of a family member, friend, or pet; divorce or a move; abuse; trauma; a parent leaving on military deployment; or a major illness in the family can cause stress that might lead to problems with behavior, mood, sleep, appetite, and academic or social functioning. In some cases, it’s not as clear what’s caused a child to suddenly seem withdrawn, worried, stressed, or tearful. Some children who are not yet school-age could benefit from seeing a Developmental or Clinical Psychologist if there’s a significant delay in achieving developmental milestones such as walking, talking, and potty training, and if there are concerns regarding autism or other developmental disorders.
Additional signs that your child may benefit from seeing a psychologist include:
*Learning or attention problems (such as ADHD)
*Behavioral problems (such as excessive anger, acting out, bedwetting or eating disorders)
*Significant drop in grades
*episodes of sadness, tearfulness, or depression
*social withdrawal or isolation
*being the victim of bullying or bullying other children
*decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities
*Overly aggressive behavior (such as biting, kicking, or hitting)
*Sudden changes in appetite (particularly in adolescents)
*Insomnia or increased sleepiness
*Excessive school absenteeism or tardiness
*Mood swings (happy one minute, upset the next)
*Development of or an increase in physical complaints (such as headache, stomachache, or not feeling well) despite a normal physical exam by your doctor
*Management of a serious, acute, or chronic illness
*Signs of alcohol, drug, or other substance use
*Behavior problems following transitions (related to marital separation, divorce, or move)
Once you decide that your child should see a Psychologist, you may be concerned about how to tell her. It’s essential to be honest about the appointment and why your child (or family) will be going. Explain to young children that this type of visit to the doctor doesn’t involve a physical exam or shots. You may also want to stress that this type of doctor talks and plays with kids and families to help them solve problems and feel better. Your child might feel reassured to learn that the Psychologist will be helping the parents and other family members too. Older children and teens may be reassured to hear that most of the things they say to the therapist is confidential and cannot be shared with anyone else, including parents or other doctors, without their permission. Giving a child this kind of information before the first appointment can help set the tone, prevent your child from feeling singled out or isolated, decrease anxiety, and provide reassurance that the family will be working together on the problem.
If you feel your child might have an emotional or behavioral problem or needs help coping with a difficult life event, trust your instincts. By recognizing problems and seeking help early on, you can move through the tough times towards a happier, healthier future.