How Do I Know If My Child Might Need Counseling?

Article by: Bridgehaven Team

This is a question that I get from many parents. As parents,  we struggle at times to know what is needed. This article is a summary of certain things that may show that your child may need someone who is trained and outside their family and friend circle to speak or “play” with.

The most obvious time a child would need counseling is if a significant trauma has taken place. I state this as obvious, but trauma is sometimes the most overlooked.   Typically if a trauma has happened to the child it has happened to the family. Adults have unrealistic views that children will be “OK” even if the adult is not. Sometimes children just get lost in the trauma and never get found.

Three specific traumatic events that children should definitely be evaluated for are:

• Abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, verbal)

• Divorce

• Death of loved one

Each of these have many complicated issues that someone outside the family and professionally trained should help evaluate.

Just like there are certain traumas that should be evaluated regardless of the child, there are also certain behaviors and attitudes that should be addressed. Following are a few examples of these types of behaviors and attitudes that may warrant counseling:

• Cutting

• Statements of suicide or not wanting to live

• Repeated explosive outbursts of anger

• Physical aggression

• Complete withdrawal with inability to pull your child into discussion

• Dramatic decrease in school performance

• Finding or hearing they have experimented with drugs and/or alcohol

• Discovering they are sexually active or viewing pornography

  • There have been transitions in the child’s life

So what if no significant trauma has occurred? What if you observe things, and you are unsure of the “normalcy” of the behavior or attitude? Here are some guiding questions to help determine next steps.

How long have you observed the behavior or attitude? If longer than three to six months, it could be concerning, especially if worsening or escalating.

Has it been there all along, or started suddenly? Sudden changes are more concerning than something that has been their since birth, but both may need further exploration.

How often do you notice the behavior or attitude? Frequency could be an indicator of how severe an attitude or behavior is.

Is the behavior progressing into what would be a negative pattern or do you see growth and improvement? If the behavior or attitude is improving, this could be a good sign that something was a “phase” or growth area.

How much does the behavior effect day –to- day functioning? If the attitude or behavior causes others to live in tension or anxiety, or requires increased supervision then it probably needs further evaluation from a trained professional.

Does your child seem distressed by the behavior or attitude? If your child is distressed by their own attitude or behavior this is a definite sign that a trained professional would be beneficial.

After thinking through these questions, you may decide that speaking with someone is in your child’s best interest.

Addressing this with your child is the next step. The attitude you approach your child with about this decision will go a long way into the success of the appointment. Be careful to do the following:

• Do not make counseling a “punishment” for behavior

Do make counseling seem like it is for the family not the child as the “identified patient”

• Communicate the intention to want to help, and that sometimes helping is seeking help from other people who know more than you do. This shows humility on your part and willingness to learn from others. This is a key part of counseling being successful for the child. After these steps have been taken, finding a counselor is the next thing to do. Next month we will discuss questions and things to look for in choosing a counselor.