Children like adults may need therapy for a variety of reasons. Parents may feel perplexed at how to tell when a child might benefit from therapy. Though it would be nearly impossible to list all the reasons why a child might need therapy, there are some “signs” or situations in which a parent may want to find a good therapist for a child or children.
There are numerous situations that may be helped by therapy. Significant life events like losing a parent, going through a divorce, relocating to a new area, or experiencing trauma can all be indications that therapy might be helpful. Also, a child who is suffering from a major illness, or who has a caretaker or close friend suffering from a major illness are all good reasons for therapeutic support.
Often such therapy should begin with an individual therapist, and one who specializes in the issues the child is encountering. Older children may also benefit from group therapy that focuses on issues like sexual abuse, dealing with divorce, or grief counseling. Groups also exist for children who have medical conditions, though these can be difficult to find if you do not live in a fairly well populated area. A personal therapist or a large hospital is often the best resource for finding these types of groups.
In other cases, a child may display signs that concern parents. These signs can differ widely depending upon the child. Here are a few common causes for concern:
- One notes or discovers drug or alcohol abuse by the child.
- The child demonstrates behavior inappropriate to his/her age, such as temper tantrums that occur frequently in a 10 year old.
- The child is having persistent difficulty in school, or suddenly begins to experience difficulty in school.
- An outgoing child becomes shy and withdrawn.
- A shy and withdrawn child appears unable to cope with the social challenges of school.
- The child is being bullied at school or is being a bully to others.
- The child seems angry all the time.
- The child seems anxious all the time or has panic attacks.
- The child appears depressed most of the time.
- The child has trouble eating or sleeping on a consistent basis.
- The child is persistently defiant in the home or school setting.
There are numerous reasons beyond these why a parent might consider therapy for a child. One looks at children who refuse to go to school or who have extreme difficulty leaving parents for any period of time. Other times, children tell us they need therapy by their own self-statements. Kids with low self-esteem may frequently voice their feelings of inadequacy. Alternately they may act brash and overconfident and appear to have little sensitivity to the feelings of others.
Often the best resource for school age children is to seek out a school counselor or psychologist and ask for referrals to therapists. Church groups, insurance companies, children’s doctors, and parents you trust may also lead you to good therapists. When presenting the concept of therapy to children, one should remain upbeat and positive. The child should not feel that there is something “wrong” with them, or that they need to be “fixed” by a “shrink.” Instead parents can talk with their children about how we all need a little extra help sometimes to deal with things that are challenging.
It is often the case that a child who needs therapy has a caretaker or parent who also needs therapy. Caring for a child in need of therapy can be a strain, and parents can feel guilty about “causing” a child to need therapy. Children can pick up on a parent’s feeling of guilt or frustration. Further, if the problem requiring therapy is situational, like dealing with a death, an illness or a divorce, parents can model for their children by seeing their own therapists to help them through difficult spots. The child can then see that therapy is a normal thing to do, and will hopefully not feel guilty or out of place because they see a therapist as well.