Many people say that prevention is the best medicine, but what do you do when it is already too late to prevent a problem?
When you as a parent feel overwhelmed with what to do, and how to help, that is usually a good sign that it is necessary to seek professional help. Of course, you could begin with consulting the plethora of parenting books on any number of specific topics, but that still leaves the burden on you as a parent to initiate change. The following 5 questions can be a good starting point to making a decision about whether to seek help.
1. Is your child endangering themselves, or others? This can mean a lot of different things, depending on the age of your child. Being dangerous toward self or others can look like punching, pushing, or kicking other children at school, bullying others, or excessive rough behavior with siblings. If your child is self harming (hitting themselves, pulling their own hair, scratching themselves, burning themselves, cutting themselves) this is a warning sign that should not be ignored.
Even if your child only talks about harming themselves, or others, it is typically reason enough to seek outside help. Drug and alcohol use can be another destructive and harmful behavior that typically necessitate outside help, particularly if it has become a habit.
2. Are your child’s behavior or mood issues getting in the way of their school or overall functioning? When a child is struggling to perform their best at school and it seems to be due to them feeling depressed, anxious, or having a difficulty focusing, it warrants getting a professionals opinion. Often times, there are ways to implement strategies that make school more bearable for children who are suffering. Why not give them all of the necessary tools to be successful, instead of waiting for them to fail?
3. Have your child’s behavioral issues begun to negatively affect other members of the family? When children target a specific sibling, or parent to antagonize, this can be stressful for the whole family, but particularly the one being targeted. It is important to take this as a warning sign that there could be larger issues.
4. Have others expressed concerns about your child? Have your child’s teacher, other caregiver, or extended family members noticed a change in your child? Sometimes changes happen so gradually that we as parents have a harder time seeing how much has changed. It is important to weigh the opinions of others who are close to your child on a regular basis when making a decision about getting help.
5. Has there been a significant life event that seems like it could have a lasting, negative impact on your child? Have you recently separated, or divorced, lost a family member, suffered a traumatic event? Children and adolescents are resilient to say the least, but giving them skills to deal with difficult life events helps them not to internalize the negative feelings that they likely experience. It is also necessary and helpful to process the feelings that are brought up by difficult events.
Do you as a parent feel like you don’t know what else to do in order to help your child? It is not necessary to answer “yes” to more than one of these questions in order to seek help, but when answering yes to any of these questions it is imperative to take a look at what is preventing you from seeking help. Generally speaking, it can’t hurt to try therapy out and see if it can be a useful took.
What to do once you’ve decided to seek help? It is always a good idea to talk with your pediatrician first, in order to rule out any physical issues that could be contributing to mood or behavioral concerns. Once you have done so, your pediatrician can be a great resource in recommending a good behavioral health provider. You can also consult with your child’s school to see if they have recommendations for providers. Many providers also offer free consultations, either by phone or in person. This can be a good way to see if the potential providers philosophies are in line with what you are looking for and what you think would be a good approach for your child.