Getting Help Is the Best Way to Show Your Child You Care
By Dwonna Thompson-Lenoir Psy.D, LPCC
It’s important to know when raising children, there is no exact science and each child will present with different challenges, reactions to stress, and abilities to cope with difficulties. While as parents, we want to keep the lines of communication open; sometimes kids just don’t feel comfortable talking to parents and/or other trusted adults. They find it easier to seek counsel from friends or same-aged peers. However, there are times when as parents we need to know when, if our children are not talking to us; it’s time to get professional help and/or insight on what may be occurring.
Not every situation will require professional help, but there will be tell-tale signs that your child is finding it difficult to move on, cope and/or handle life situations. Children differ in the ways they express themselves however there are signs to be aware of as it relates to how your child is handling difficulties or any changes with which they may be confronted.
Has there been an abrupt change in behaviors or patterns of behavior? Has your child become more agitated lately? Are they refusing to eat? Do you notice that things that once were pleasing to them; they no longer have interest in those things? Has their language with and toward others changed? Are teachers and other trusted adults noticing changes in your child?
The answers to these questions may indicate the need to seek out professional help. Don’t overreact however. As children encounter different situations, they are expected to have different emotional responses to what they are going through. A key to knowing when to seek help is taking into account the severity of the experience and the intensity of the child’s reaction to the situation (stressor).
Issues such as divorce, conflict with peers, adjustment to social pressures, changes in academic settings and identity development are expected to cause children to react in ways that may not be congruent with how they respond to everyday life situations, but you find that your child is not able to talk about, adjust to change and/or return to normal functioning (how they functioned prior to the life event) it may indicate there is an underlying issue that may be best addressed by a professional.
Adults and children handle things differently and it is a flaw for adults to believe that just because they are “over or through” a thing that children will have the same approach or adjustment to the same issue. Many times, children are not affected the same ways and the effects of change can vary greatly depending on the individual. The main thing to keep in mind is “don’t take children for granted”. If you notice your child is having a hard time dealing with things, (even if to you it should not be that “serious”) take the time to provide them with the space and time to effectively work through their thoughts and feelings about things that are happening in their lives with someone who is non-biased and skilled to address their concerns.
Parents are often concerned about stigma or judgement when it comes to getting help from a child that seems to be struggling. This is one of the biggest barriers to overcome. Having a child that may be dealing with depression, anxiety or other concerns does not in any way indicate that you have failed as a parent or have in some way or another harmed your child. Parents need to be assured that getting help for a child that may be experiencing any level of distress is the best way to show your child (and others) you care. When you take your child is seen by a professional, the professional is more than likely looking for ways to relieve your child’s distress and help them return to previous functioning as opposed to judging you as a parent and finding the ways you have somehow caused your child’s problems.
When you take your child to be seen for by a professional, she/he will:
- Evaluate the degree to which the observed distress is impacting daily functioning
- Evaluate whether or not the current issues has the potential to threaten the child’s overall development and ability to meet age-appropriate milestones
- Exploring whether or not the child’s behavior is interfering with family functioning in any way
- Identify concerns from trusted adults about changes in behavior, attitude, appetite and other life domains.
- Evaluation of whether the child’s behavior puts him or others at risk in any way
It’s crucial to understand that seeking professional help for a child that may be dealing with a critical issue is comparable to seeking medical help for a sick child. As a parent, we are less likely to avoid medical help for our children and if so are seen as negligent. The same can be noted about seeking professional help for things such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, adjustment issues and other concerns; seeking professional help show your responsibility as a parent to help you child deal effectively with life.
Parents are encouraged to try to assist their kids when situations arise, but knowing when you have done your best and require assistance from others is the hallmark of an invested parent. Know that your involvement will be important throughout the process of helping your child as well. Professionals will rely heavily on parents for background information, support with helping the child at home and continuous communication about increases and/or decreases in functioning.
Getting professional help does not indicate that your child will be in therapy for the rest of their lives. In fact, therapy may be short-lived, but very effective in helping your child. However, avoiding help and overlooking signs that your child is in distress may lead to a progression of the problem and make things worst not only for your child but for you as well.