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How do I know if my child would benefit from therapy?

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As awareness about mental health issues has increased, and the stigmas associated have decreased, more parents are seeking therapy for their children and reaping the benefits. While some mood swings, emotional upset and social challenges are normal for most children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 6 American children aged 2 to 8 years have a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. In many cases, child therapy can help manage these issues.

Child therapy–be it play therapy, behavioral therapy, talk therapy, family therapy or something else–is a great tool in helping your children cope with life’s challenges, including anxiety, depression, emotional regulation, low self-esteem and more. Here are some signs your child may benefit from speaking with a counselor or mental health professional:

  • Social isolation or not engaging with friends: When children aren’t interacting with their friends in a usual manner, it can be a sign for concern, especially if this is unlike them. Not wanting to be with friends or avoiding social events (beyond what feels typical for your child) can be a sign of anxiety, depression, or bullying, and definitely warrants a conversation with your child and possibly a mental health professional.
  • Drastic changes in either eating or sleeping habits: Someone’s mental health can often affect their eating and sleeping habits. If your child is suddenly sleeping much more than normal, or much less, or their eating behaviors have changed dramatically, it could be signs of anxiety, depression or even the beginnings of an eating disorder. Changes in sleep and eating habits should also be discussed with your child’s pediatrician to rule out any underlying physical health issues.
  • Difficulty focusing while at school: If your child’s school has contacted you to discuss their difficulty focusing while at school, and your child continues to struggle academically after you’ve given them different learning resources, opportunities and support, it may be time to speak to a professional counselor.
  • Engaging in destructive behaviors: Destructive behaviors in children can vary but most often include intentional damage to toys or other items at home, increased aggression and even physical violence against siblings or peers, lying, acts of self-harm and more. Noticing any pattern of destructive behavior warrants a discussion with your pediatrician and perhaps a referral to a mental health professional.
  • Experiencing “regressions”: Parents are likely familiar with regressions when caring for an infant or toddler, like when a baby asks for a pacifier after months of not using one. As children grow older, however, regressions can sometimes be indicative of other issues. If your child has started bedwetting or is showing signs of clinginess not normal for them, it may be time to speak to your pediatrician and potentially a counselor.
  • Experiencing a stressful life event: Just as adults benefit from therapy during periods of high stress, so do children. If your child has experienced a painful or traumatic life event, including family illness or hospitalization, divorce, a significant move or a death in the family, it might be beneficial to consider therapy to help them cope.

There may have been a time when thinking of a child in therapy brought to mind cases of extreme trauma or mental illness, but we are no longer living in that time. If you suspect your child may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional or other counselor, consult your pediatrician. Your child’s doctor can help rule out any physical illness or problems and help point you in the right direction in finding a child therapist. For more information on child therapy, including the benefits and what it most often entails, visit www.verywellfamily.com, www.kidshealth.org, or www.healthline.com.


By ABC Quality Team on January 31, 2023