5 Signs It’s Time to Get a Therapist for Your Child

Childhood and adolescence can be a confusing time for both children and for parents. At times, you may be staring at your child wondering: Is that really my child? Moods swing fast, and behaviors change quickly. It can be hard to know what change is part of growing up versus something that needs extra attention. You want to be a supportive parent, and make sure they get the help they need, but you don’t want to overreact either. I get it, and I understand a lot of parents wonder: How do I know when it’s time to schedule my child with a therapist? If you notice one or more of these signs, it might be time to check in with a therapist.

  1. The challenge you are noting (mood, behavior, self-esteem, etc.) is affecting your child or teen in many places.

    It is typical for young people to show a little more emotion and boundary-pushing at home. It is typical for them to struggle at school sometimes. You may even be noticing that they keep it together all day at school, but struggle at home only. If you start to notice that your child is struggling in a variety of places, you may want to meet with a counselor. These difficult areas could include school, home, work, with friends, with family, sports, extracurriculars, and more. Even if they are only struggling in one area, but it has been an excessive time, you may still consider calling a therapist.

  2. Your child excessively worries.

    Does your child frequently ask you about what is going to happen? Do you notice them stressing about the future, the safety of themselves or others, social situations or a specific fear? Anxiety can ripple out and affect people in crippling ways. If left untreated, it can become more detrimental to your child over time. It is important for your young person to learn what triggers their anxiety. It is important they learn skills to understand and cope with their feelings. Time with a therapist will also help you learn more about your child's anxiety and how to support them.

  3. You hear your child say things like “I’m worthless,” “No one likes me,” “I don’t matter.”

    It can be hard to hear your child talk down to themself. You want to swoop them up in your arms and hold them and tell them not to think like that, and that those things aren’t true. Or maybe you find yourself frustrated, asking them why they think like that or wondering if they are just wanting to get attention. No matter the reason, your child IS making these negative statements about themself and that is an issue. Even if you want to, you cannot take away your child’s inner script from pure parental love. A therapist can help your child or teen learn what’s underneath those thoughts. Together, they can change some of the negative thought patterns and find ways to help your child learn to believe in themself again.

  4. Your child engages in any sort of self-harm.

    Finding out that your child is self-harming can bring up a range of feelings for parents. I look forward to writing about this in future blog posts. For now, I’ll leave it at this: your child is not self-harming just for attention. There is a reason behind the behavior. The self-harm that you’ve noted may seem superficial. You may not know how to react. Either way, trying to ignore the behavior or giving a consequence for it isn’t going to make it go away. Your young person needs to get in to talk with someone about the feelings behind the behavior. Therapy will help your child/teen learn alternative coping strategies for their feelings.

  5. Your child talks to you about suicide.

    There are a lot of myths about suicide and suicidal behavior. I would like to clarify two right here and now. People who commit suicide do talk about suicide before they act, and talking about suicide will not, on its own, increase the likelihood of a person acting on suicidal thoughts. If your child talks to you about suicide, respond calmly and carefully. Try not to startle in your response but ask questions about their plan and intent. (Use questions like: “Do you have a plan on how you would kill yourself? Do you think you would act on that?”). If your child has a plan/intent, take them to get assessed by a healthcare professional at a local crisis clinic or the emergency room immediately. Once assessed by a professional, a proper path of care will be determined. If your child has thoughts of suicide, but no specific plan or intent, this is an imperative time to begin to work with a therapist. Your child will have space to process what is going on and learn coping skills for their feelings.

*BONUS: Your child or teen asks you directly.

If your child or teen courageously comes to you to ask for a therapist, that is your sign that they need to speak with one. First, congratulate yourself on having a wonderfully assertive child, and second, make the appointment. We constantly tell young people to ask for what they need so they can get help. This is a wonderful time for you to affirm their power, so get them in to speak with someone.

Ready to take the next step? Finding the right therapist for your child or teen is important and can take time. When you find a therapist that you think could be a good fit for your child, give them a call. Talk with them about what you observe, what you want for your child, and what they could do to help. Learn about their therapeutic style. Asks the questions you have. If your child is old enough, allow them to have a say in who they would like to work with. Remember, the earlier your child starts working with a counselor, the better. Good luck!

In the Harford or Cecil County area? I specialize in working with children, adolescents and young adults. My clients struggle with attention, anxiety, life transitions such as divorce or moving, or the challenges of growing up (pressure from school, self-esteem, perfectionism). I also work with young women on the Autism Spectrum to help them learn to navigate their internal and external worlds. Think we're a good fit? Reach out to me today for a free consultation.