It’s hard work being a parent. No child is born with a how-to guide, and parents, understandably, don’t always know what to do when they see their children struggling.
It can be especially challenging when your child is struggling emotionally. Every child has emotional ups and downs. They might go through phases where they’re crying more, or they may seem moodier than usual.
As a parent, how can you tell if this is a normal phase or if your child is going through something more serious? Particularly over these past few challenging years, many parents have wondered, “Does my child need therapy? Or will this work itself out with time?”
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not clear-cut. What might be a sign that one child needs therapy could be normal behavior for another.
But it’s important to be aware of some signs that your child would benefit from therapy so that you can get them mental health support when they need it. Read on to learn about behaviors that could indicate that your child may need to see a therapist.
6 signs your child needs to see a therapist
Some children are naturally more introverted or shy, and this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are struggling or need to see a therapist. But if you’ve noticed that your child has started to be more isolated and withdrawn lately, especially if they’re naturally more extroverted, it could be a sign that their mental health is struggling.
Keep in mind that pre-teens and teenagers naturally start drifting away from their parents and toward their peers — this is normal behavior for their developmental stage. But pay attention to how they’re spending their time. Are they spending it alone? Do you feel that they have supportive people they can talk to?
Complaining about unexplained physical symptoms
For both children and adults, mental health is deeply interconnected with physical health. This means that, for some, mental health struggles may manifest as physical health symptoms. If your child regularly complains about aches, pains, or other physical symptoms that are not explained by an underlying medical condition, it could be reflective of a mental health issue.
As a first step, always get any physical complaints or symptoms examined by a physician to rule out any physical causes. But if the symptoms can’t be explained by a physical illness, it may be worth considering whether they are part of how your child is experiencing anxiety or mood symptoms. Some common physical symptoms that could be reflective of mental health problems include:
- Fatigue or low energy
- Lack of appetite
- Digestive problems, like stomach aches
- Frequent headaches
Sometimes, when a child’s mental health is hurting, their behaviors regress to earlier stages of development. For example, your child could suddenly develop separation anxiety after years of being past this. Or they might return to sucking their thumb.
Regressions are common in childhood, especially when there’s a stressful event in the family, like a move or divorce. But if these behaviors seem to happen for no clear reason, it may be a good idea to bring your child to a therapist so they can help you figure out what’s going on.
Having some worries, even as a child, is normal. But do your child’s worries seem excessive? Do they have a difficult time comforting themselves, or even being comforted by you or another adult? Do their worries seem based in reality?
For example, being concerned about a big test coming up may be nothing to be concerned about. Constantly expressing dread about your death may be another story. Having fears and worries can be a natural reaction to stressful events. It’s important to pay attention to how severe these fears are, and whether or not they start disrupting your child’s, or your family’s, daily life.
If your child has excessive worries that they can’t control, they might have a mental health condition like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. It may be a good idea to take them to a therapist so they can get the help they need.
If your child suddenly starts being more oppositional, this could be another sign that they might benefit from talking to a therapist. To be clear, all children are oppositional sometimes — and occasionally talking back or not following instructions is likely nothing to worry about.
But if these behaviors seem severe, or if you’ve recently noticed an extreme shift toward oppositional behaviors in your child, then this might be a cry for help. This is an important sign to pay attention to especially if your family has gone through a change recently, like a move or the birth of a new sibling.
Self-harm or suicidal thoughts
Lastly, if your child is engaging in any kind of self-harm behavior, then it’s important that you take them to see a therapist. Some examples of self-harm behaviors include:
- Cutting themselves with sharp objects
- Picking their skin excessively
- Scratching themselves severely
- Hitting or punching themselves
This type of self-harm behavior isn’t necessarily a sign that your child is suicidal, but it could be, and engaging in self-harm increases the risk for suicidal behavior in the future. Usually, self-harm is an unhealthy way that children try to cope with overwhelming emotions or communicate their feelings to others. A therapist can teach them healthier coping and communication skills and give them a safe place to express themselves.
Any talk of death or suicide should also be taken very seriously. This includes passive statements, like “I wish I were never born.” If your child is thinking about death or suicide at all, reach out for support right away.
Still not sure whether or not your child needs therapy? You can always reach out to a mental health professional for a consultation to help you make that decision.
What type of therapy does my child need?
The good news is that there are evidence-based mental health treatments that have been shown to be helpful for children and adolescents. The type of therapy that your child needs depends on what they’re going through. Choosing the right approach will be based on the nature of the problem they are experiencing and their age, among other factors.
Some commonly used mental health treatments for children include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Parent Management Training
- Family therapy
Handspring Health: Online Therapy for Children and Teens
At Handspring Health, we are dedicated to providing evidence-based, high-quality, age-appropriate mental healthcare for children. Our online children’s therapy sessions are delivered by a clinical team that has decades of experience in treating children’s mental health issues.
To get started, book a free consult call today.