Kids will be kids. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the awkward behaviors of growing children from more serious, mentally unstable behaviors that may plague their well-being. However, as a parent, you may get a vibe that something is wrong with your child. Do you even suspect your child would benefit from mental health therapy or treatment?
Don’t ignore these vibes. Children often don’t talk about the mental and emotional problems they’re going through, so it’s up to you to recognize these problems and get them some help. When talking to them doesn’t work, it’s time to get professional help.
According to psychology researcher Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc., here are ten signs that, according to counselors, your child needs mental health therapy.
Ten Signs You Should Seek Mental Health Care or Therapy for Your Child
1. Constant depression.
This red flag is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S., so it’s no surprise if a child is suffering from it. There are so many factors in life that can contribute to a child feeling down and hopeless, and they may not all be obvious. However, it’s important to recognize depression as soon as possible so you can get your child the mental help they need before something disastrous happens.
These feelings should not be confused with fleeting moments of sadness. That’s completely normal. However, if your child’s sad moments are lingering for weeks or months, this is a primary clue that something is not right. Some signs to look for are negative thinking, extreme self-criticism, feelings of being unlovable or unlikeable, or overreacting to minor problems.
2. Skipping school.
Skipping school is usually a significant indicator that there is something wrong with a child. It could be that they’re exceptionally down, as was discussed in the previous section. Children could have problems at home or feel unsafe at school. It could also be a combination of any of these situations.
Whatever the reason is, skipping school is a sign that something is going on with your child. While the direct reason could be physical like bullying, for example, you can be sure that it’s having some harmful mental effects on your child. You should get your child some mental help so you can get to the bottom of the problems.
3. Bad behavior in school.
Just like skipping school is an indicator of problems, so is bad behavior in school. Children may not know how to express how they’re feeling about certain things, or they may be embarrassed to express themselves. This turmoil can lead to children “acting out.”
The best way to get to the root of your child’s bad behavior is to talk to them. Often children act out because they don’t understand the lessons, but they’re too embarrassed for their classmates to find out.
If this is the problem, it’s simple to fix. However, if there is more going on, getting mental help for your child may be the best way to figure out why they’re misbehaving.
4. Out of control behavior.
It can be incredibly difficult and frustrating to deal with a child who has out of control behavior. You may have seen this before in public – that parent who has a child who screams, hits, or destroys in-store displays because they can’t get what they want. Hopefully, you aren’t the parent that’s dealing with that.
Unfortunately, children who are displaying this type of behavior are doing so because the parent has not asserted themselves as the authority figure. The children have lost respect for the parent and feel as though they can do whatever they want without consequences since, usually, the parent doesn’t implement any consequences.
The problem with this is that the child grows up with this false mentality. As teenagers and adults, this out of control behavior can lead to them getting into constant trouble and going through severe hopelessness. That’s why it’s important to get mental help for the child (and probably the parent also) when they are out of control at a young age.
5. Hurting themselves or others.
It’s never normal to hurt yourself. In most cases, it’s not normal to hurt others. If your child is doing this, you need to rush to get them some mental help.
This type of behavior can and will escalate if it isn’t taken care of immediately. It can be dangerous for the parents but especially dangerous for any other children that are around. Don’t delay on getting a violent child the help they need.
6. Talking about death or suicide.
Kids say some weird things but talking about suicide should never be one of them. The suicide rate of teenagers in the United States is alarming. It’s the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24 years old.
If your child mentions anything about dying or ending their life or something vague like they won’t be your problem anymore, stop what you’re doing and get them some help. This type of conversation means that they are dealing with some other underlying severe issue (most likely depression), and they don’t know how to handle it.
7. Frequent mood swings.
It’s normal for children to have mood swings. However, you should begin to worry if the mood swings are frequent or interfere in the child’s daily life. If this is the case, your child is in mental distress.
There can be quite a few reasons that a child has frequent mood swings. Being extremely sad or hopeless is one of those reasons, but it could link to a different underlying cause. Examples are (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) ADHD, bipolar disorder, and dysthymic disorder.
Unless you’re a medical professional, you won’t be able to diagnose your child on your own. Mental health therapy can identify any problems your child may have and provide you with a treatment plan that will help your child live every day and productive life.
8. Strange eating patterns.
Children who are under mental distress can display strange eating habits such as not eating enough or overeating. It’s normal for kids to fluctuate in how much they eat – they’re growing, and their bodies are getting “used to” the nutrition they need as they grow. However, if you notice extreme fluctuations, this is a sign that your child may need some mental health therapy.
Extreme can be defined by significant weight loss or weight gain, a sudden disinterest in their favorite foods, sneaking foods or snacks when they’ve already eaten, or relying on food to deal with their emotions. If these behaviors aren’t taken care of, it can lead to problems like anorexia, bulimia, or obesity. This habit will only make your child even more mentally distressed.
When you notice that your child has strange eating habits, don’t hesitate to find out why. If they won’t talk to you about it, get them some help before their physical health becomes a problem also.
9. Difficulty sleeping.
Sleeping problems are a classic sign of mental distress. While it’s normal for children to have dreams or even nightmares now and again, they shouldn’t interfere with your child’s life. Once they cross the threshold to vivid dreams or night terrors, it’s time to find out what’s happening with your child mentally to interrupt their sleep so much.
Counselors explain that vivid dreams and night terrors are usually manifestations of painful emotions that your child is dealing with internally, but possibly not expressing while they’re awake. Mental health therapy can get to the bottom of these unexpressed emotions, and hopefully, the vivid dreams and night terrors will stop.
If this problem isn’t taken care of, it can lead to other issues while they’re awake like anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and more. Don’t ignore your child’s dreams and nightmares if they become excessive.
10. Drug or alcohol abuse.
It’s not pleasant to think about a child or teenager abusing drugs or alcohol, but unfortunately, this is an ordinary reality in today’s world. It can come from hanging with the wrong crowd, but there is usually some mental or emotional underlying issue that causes them to choose that path in the first place. If your child is abusing drugs or alcohol, you need to get them the best mental health therapy that you can afford.
Abusing drugs and alcohol can ruin a child’s life. Often, begging and pleading with them to stop doesn’t work. Reasoning with them won’t work. Only getting to the root cause of the problem works, and children are often uncomfortable confiding in their parents. Getting mental health therapy might be the only way to get them back on the right track.
As a parent, you want the best for your child. It can be incredibly difficult to decipher what’s going on in your child’s head. After all, you’re not a psychic, and no one expects you to be one.
The best you can do is be attentive. Look for signs such as the ones above that counselors suggest and when you see them, take action. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) indicates that a great starting point is to talk to your child’s teachers and counselors at school.
Keep in mind that your mental health is essential also, and having anxiety about your child’s mental health may affect yours. It’s okay to get mental health therapy as a family. In fact, that could be a great way to let your child know that they aren’t alone.