KATHERINE J. IGOE
Having your child see a therapist is forward-thinking and beneficial
As a child, my classmates bullied me. “Bullied” is too kind a word: my experience was that the other children tormented me because I was shy, sensitive and awkward.
I went to therapy late in high school, and then more regularly as an adult. By then, though, I’d internalized the trauma. Healing is always possible, and with help, I learned to thrive. But the right messages at the right time could have done wonders for my self-confidence, to dispel my belief I couldn’t make friends because I was unloveable.
It’s important that every parent watch for changes in a child’s behavior and bring in an expert if needed. But this is much easier said than done, and it’s easy to feel lost—or, worse, a failure. It doesn’t need to be like this. Here are common questions you might ask, with answers to help you feel empowered.
What are the warning signs?
If your child experiences sudden, persistent, unexplained changes in their mood, behavior, grades, or social interactions, it’s often a sign something’s up.
Beth Jerome, PhD, LCP, founder of WellSpring Child and Family Psychology in Fredericksburg said, “Symptoms don’t always present in children the same way they do in adults. Children are often not aware of how they’re feeling and are often not able to communicate with parents about it.”
“Bad” behavior like yelling and moodiness can be a sign of anxiety or depression. In my case, I internalized my feelings, so my solitude and anxiety were the only clues of something deeper. When in doubt, take your child to a therapist who’s trained to treat young people. Behavior varies according to the child, so trust your gut.
“As with medical care, we don’t have to wait until our children are in horrible pain to seek help,” Jerome said.
When should we go?
Whenever there’s an issue: “We see children as young as two through adulthood,” said Jerome.
“Children and families often come to therapy for help with anxiety or nervousness, down or irritable mood, difficulty with social skills, behavioral problems, family conflict or parenting stress, or for help dealing with difficult life events. In adolescents we also treat eating disorders and substance abuse problems.”
And it’s not just kids, either. Plenty of parents go to therapy when they’re stressed or overwhelmed to get effective parenting tools.
What will results look like?
Not all children need therapy, but every child can benefit from the tools it teaches, including regulating emotions/behavior and developing social skills. Think of them as teachable skills like math or reading.
Children who experience trauma or hardship can use therapy to reduce chronic stress (which creates both emotional and physical sickness). Bullying, especially when it impacts a child as it did me, is a perfect example. When therapists catch smaller problems early on, it helps them from growing into lifelong struggles.
Therapy can also help treat anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism and other common conditions. Sometimes you’ll see the effects manifested as fewer emotional conflicts and stress.
Will other parents judge me?
A common misconception persists that therapya sign of weakness. It’s unfortunate, because it means people don’t always get care. “Seeking help is healthy, normal, and a sign of good adjustment,” said Jerome.
“To say that only weak people go to the doctor would make no sense—and it really doesn’t make any more sense when you’re talking about behavioral health. Psychologically healthy people seek help when they need it.”
Talk to the therapist if you’re worried about gossip. Therapists take confidentiality seriously, and they can also help you find ways to talk about therapy without creating more issues for your child.
Ultimately, when you take your child to therapy, you’re validating them. Your actions tell your child that their feelings are OK, and that seeking help is OK, too.