how to tell if your child needs counseling

Signs Your Child Needs Counseling and What to Do

Doing your best as a parent isn’t easy. The baby you love can wear you down after crying longer than expected. Your toddler’s behavior can make you laugh one minute and shout the next. Your teenager’s outbursts, silence or misjudgments can trigger anger and embarrassment that are hard to deal with. When do you wait things out, and when do you get help?  How do you tell if your child needs counseling?

Noticing what might be triggering the behavior can help. Think about how long you’ve felt concerned. See if the issues you’re noticing are persisting over more than two weeks.

Keeping a few notes in a journal can help. This can be a useful reference if you choose to search for resources to get the support you need.

Does My Child Need Counseling?

Some Helpful Signs for Parents

Here are some signs to look for, if you’re wondering:  How do I know if my child needs counseling?

Signs an elementary or younger child needs counseling:

  • A return of separation anxiety
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Appetite loss and/or weight loss
  • Digestive issues
  • Having trouble in school
  • Persistent irritability
  • Becoming withdrawn

Signs a middle school or high school age child needs counseling:

  • Changes in mood that last more than a few days
  • Disinterest in sports, activities or people your child enjoyed before
  • A drop in grades
  • Sleeping more or withdrawing more
  • Being unable to stop worrying
  • Self-harm such as cutting or pulling out hair, skin or fingernails
  • Unwanted behavior that seems out of control
  • Having rituals such as erasing writing repeatedly, rearranging or touching objects, or re-washing hands

How to Talk to Your Kids About Feelings

You may just be starting to think about signs your child needs counseling.

You may be wondering: Should my child see a therapist or psychologist? You may not ready to call a therapist for the first time just yet. There is so much good you can do as a parent even before you start exploring child therapy or family counseling.

If your child won’t talk about feelings, you can lead the way by talking about yours.

Showing you care means a lot to your child. Children depend on emotional bonds with one or two important people for a sense of safety and belonging. Helping your child or teen feel seen and cared about helps build the sense of security they need.

Share what you notice with kindness. Your presence can help you build a bridge of deeper connection. Taking the same side as your child to face a problem together can help you both understand your situation better.

Positive Ways to Talk to Your Child

Asking questions can help you help your child.  A good first step is to say you notice something is different. Share your feeling that something may be troubling your child.

Be gentle but direct. Parenting phrases to help you talk to your child include:

  • “I’ve noticed you’ve stopped playing with your friends. I’m wondering if you’re having trouble with something.”
  • “You’re in your room a lot more these days. How are you?”
  • “I heard your behavior was out of control in school today. What can you tell me about it?”

Healthy Independence and Behavior Problems

It’s important to remember that a child who acts out may not be out to defy you or ignore you as a parent.  Even as toddlers, children start to look for more independence. It’s normal for children to try new behaviors at every stage of development.

However, children don’t have the experience to know when their actions upset or offend others. Their nervous systems are developing new drives and emotions. Yet they don’t have the maturity to control their impulses that adults do.

When You’re Ashamed of Your Child: How to Cope with Shame

It can be very difficult to watch your children make mistakes. You may struggle to deal with shame, or unwanted thoughts like:

  • “My child is a disappointment.”
  • “I’m embarrassed by my kid’s behavior.”
  • “I’m ashamed of my kid.”

Parents often feel ashamed or embarrassed when their children act in unwanted ways. It’s important to remember that parental self-blame makes it harder to help children get the support and acceptance they need to work out their problems.

Compassion instead of shame can do a lot to help everyone accept consequences and take responsibility. Children need parents to be on their side. That doesn’t mean letting them off the hook for bad behavior. It means recognizing that mistakes happen. Rather than make excuses to avoid shame and blame, parents can show kids they’re loved and okay, even as they guide them in owning when they’ve messed up.

How to Ask for Help: What to Expect from a Child Therapist

It’s absolutely acceptable to call a therapist and talk about the things that concern you. No one likes to admit they are struggling to anyone. But remember, a good therapist is going to listen to you, not shame you, when asking for help.

Parents can help themselves and their children by seeking guidance from a therapist who works with children.

Asking for help is a conversation.

Therapy work with children and teens involves a meeting between parents and therapist first. This is a great opportunity for you to learn how well you think the therapist may fit your child.  Explore how open they are to working with others who support your child such as a school guidance counselor or pediatrician – and you, the parent.

How Family and Child Counseling Can Help

Having the support you need to help your child can make parenting a whole different experience. You don’t have to struggle or wonder if something is wrong with you or someone you love. Feeling overwhelmed or seeing your child struggle is not a sign you have failed as a parent.

No one has all the answers to every problem life throws at us. That’s why we are social beings. All human beings rely on helping each other to thrive. Sometimes it takes great courage to reach out and ask for help. But when you work with a skilled therapist you can find greater strength, connection and support together as a family.

We Are Here For You

If you’re wondering how to help your child we are here to help. Our practice in Alexandria, Virginia includes experienced therapists in child and family therapy. We want to help you find the best solutions for your child. Your questions are welcome: