9 Signs Your Child Needs Therapy
By Isbell Oliva-Garcia
Parenthood is an incredible adventure, but it certainly comes with its fair share of challenges. As you watch your child grow, there might be times when you notice something doesn’t quite feel right. Perhaps your kid is struggling with emotions, behaving in concerning ways, or having trouble connecting with others. They may be facing difficulties that go beyond your capacity to help. If so, therapy or counseling can be beneficial. Here are specific signs that your child may need it. Know that early intervention can make a significant difference.
1. Behavior Changes Sudden, significant changes in behavior or personality, such as a usually cheery child becoming withdrawn, is cause for alarm. This is particularly true if the new, concerning behavior lasts two or more weeks. Watch for shifts in sleeping patterns, eating habits, and personal interests. Also take note of frequent acting out, such as defensiveness, irritability, argumentativeness, and angry outbursts.
2. History of Trauma As a parent, you may or may not be aware that your child has been through a traumatic event. Some trauma is obvious: mass school violence, a severe accident, or a sudden loss of a loved one. But other trauma, such as sexual abuse, is not so apparent. So look for these signs:
• separation anxiety
• difficulty sleeping
• anxiety or fear
3. Poor Academic Performance If your child’s grades are dropping, this could be a sign that they are in distress. This is especially true if your child usually performs well at school. If the child also is struggling with other aspects of life, such as relationships with family and friends, there is additional cause for concern.
Even if the drop in grades isn’t due to emotional distress, investigating it may help you learn about other issues, such as a learning disability like dyslexia or a disorder like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
4. Withdrawal or Isolation If your child starts to withdraw and isolate themselves from friends and family, this could mean they are feeling sad or anxious and may need help. If, for example, a usually social child starts avoiding playdates or sitting alone at lunch, or even doesn’t want to leave the house, be concerned.
5. Long-Lasting Sadness Of course, everybody gets sad from time to time, and some kids are more sensitive than others. However, if your child has been sad for more than two weeks, this could indicate something more serious, such as depression. Other symptoms of children’s depression include low energy, irritability, and losing interest in fun things they used to enjoy.
6. Persistent Worry It’s normal for your kid to feel worried or anxious in certain situations. However, if the anxiety is out of proportion to the situation at hand and getting in the way of your kid’s life, then pay attention. Your child may verbalize their specific worries and anxiety, or they may show other signs, including:
• separation anxiety
• extreme fears or phobias of specific situations
• fear of going to school or other social situations
• worry about something bad happening
• panic attacks
7. Unexplained Physical Symptoms If your child constantly complains of physical symptoms, such as tummy aches or headaches, and your doctor has ruled out any physical cause, these symptoms could be physical manifestations of anxiety and distress. You may notice these symptoms linked to stressors, such as going to school in the morning.
8. Self-Destructive Behaviors Your child may repetitively engage in self-destructive behaviors like picking at their skin or pulling their hair. Or your child may engage in more outright, dangerous self-harm like deliberately cutting, burning, or hurting themselves in an attempt to feel relief from negative emotions. Even if they are not actively self-harming, but they talk about hurting themselves, it’s definitely cause for concern.
9. Suicidal Ideation If your child is talking about suicide, it’s a huge red flag that they need help ASAP. They may talk about suicide directly or indirectly. For example, they may say they wish they were dead or that everyone would be better off if they weren’t around. Or they might make drawings or write about death. Do not hesitate to call 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
Local therapy resources include the Redwood Empire Chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, recamft.org/find-a-therapist; Redwood Community Services, redwoodcommunityservices.org; and the Lake County Behavioral Health Services provider directory, tinyurl.com/k6jr7hkp.