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In some cases, it’s not as clear what’s caused a child to suddenly seem withdrawn, worried, stressed, sulky, or tearful. But if you feel your child might have an emotional or behavioral problem or needs help coping with a difficult life event, trust your instincts.
Talk to Caregivers, Teachers, and the Doctor
It’s also helpful to speak to caregivers and teachers who interact regularly with your child. Is your child paying attention in class and turning in assignments on time? What’s his or her behavior like at recess and with peers? Gather as much information as possible to determine the best course of action.
Discuss your concerns with your doctor, who can offer perspective and evaluate your child to rule out any medical conditions that could be having an effect. The doctor also may be able to refer you to a qualified therapist for the help your child needs.
Finding the Right Therapist
How do you find a qualified doctor who has experience working with children and teens? While experience and education are important, it’s also important to find a doctor your child feels comfortable talking to. Look for one who not only has the right experience, but also the best approach to help your child in the current circumstances.
Your doctor can be a good source of a referral. Most doctors have working relationships with mental health specialists such as child psychologists or psychiatrists.
Consider a number of factors when searching for the right therapist for your child. A good first step is to ask if the therapist is willing to meet with you for a brief consultation or to talk with you during a phone interview before you commit to regular visits. Not all therapists are able to do this, given their busy schedules. Most therapists charge a fee for this type of service; others consider it a complimentary visit.
Factors to Consider
As with other medical professionals, therapists may have a variety of credentials and specific degrees. As a general rule, your child’s therapist should hold a Ph.D., Psy.D., M.D., or D.O. degree in the mental health field and be licensed by your state.
Psychiatrists (MDs or DOs) are medical doctors who have advanced training and experience in psychotherapy and pharmacology. They can also prescribe medications.
Clinical psychologists (PhDs, PsyDs, or EdDs) are therapists who have a doctorate degree that includes advanced training in the practice of psychology, and many specialize in treating children, teens, and their families. Psychologists may help clients manage medications but do not prescribe medication.
Different Types of Therapy
Any one therapist may use a variety of strategies, including but not limited to: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)This type of therapy is often helpful with kids and teens who are depressed, anxious, or having problems coping with stress.
Cognitive behavioral therapy restructures negative thoughts into more positive, effective ways of thinking. It can include work on stress management strategies, relaxation training, practicing coping skills, and other forms of treatment.
Psychoanalytic therapy is less commonly used with children but can be used with older kids and teens who may benefit from more in-depth analysis of their problems. This is the quintessential “talk therapy” and does not focus on short-term problem-solving in the same way as CBT and behavioral therapies.
In some cases, kids benefit from individual therapy, one-on-one work with the therapist on issues they need guidance on, such as depression, social difficulties, or worry. In other cases, the right option is group therapy, where kids meet in groups of 6 to 12 to solve problems and learn new skills (such as social skills or anger management).
Family therapy can be helpful in many cases, such as when family members aren’t getting along; disagree or argue often; or when a child or teen is having behavior problems. Family therapy involves counseling sessions with some, or all, family members, helping to improve communication skills among them. Treatment focuses on problem-solving techniques and can help parents re-establish their role as authority figures. GFM
Courtesy of Nemours
SIGNS THAT A CHILD MAY NEED A THERAPIST
- developmental delay
- learning or attention problems
- behavioral issues (excessive anger, acting
out, lethargy, bedwetting, food issues, etc.)
- a sudden and significant drop in grades
- frequent episodes of sadness, tearfulness, etc.
- social withdrawal , self-isolation, or loss of
interest in favorite activities
- being the victim of bullying or bullying others
- overly aggressive behavior (biting, kicking, or hitting others, and/or cruelity to animals)
- sudden changes in appetite
- insomnia or increased sleepiness
- excessive school absenteeism or tardiness
- mood swings (e.g., happy one minute, upset the next)
- development of or an increase in physical complaints (such as headache, stomach ache, or not feeling well) despite a normal physical exam by your doctor
- management of a serious, acute, or chronic illness (of self or family member)
- signs of alcohol, drug, or other substance use
- inappropriate sexual behavior (excessive masterbation, self-exposing, promiscuity, etc.
- problems in transitions (following separation, divorce, or relocation)
- bereavement issues
- custody evaluations
- Suspected or known: sexual, physical, or emotional abuse and/or other trauma
Kids who aren’t 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. If a child of this age has experienced trauma they may also benefit from Art Therapy, or Play Therapy.