“My child has been struggling lately, and I’m wondering if seeing someone may help.”
Overwhelmed and hesitant parents have left this message on my voicemail dozens of times. Knowing when your child is struggling with an emotional or behavioral concern is not as black and white as placing a thermometer under their tongue. Children and families have their own norms and developmental trajectories, and certainly some struggle is a normal part of growing up (and being grown).
Our gut often tells us when something is off, even if we can’t quite pinpoint what it is exactly. Children (especially young ones) do not commonly have the intrapersonal resources to identify their struggles and request appropriate supports. But they will tell us something is off through their behavior.
This is why we need to have our antennas up to emotional and behavioral signals given by our children, which may indicate they would likely benefit from the outside support of a counselor.
I should note that this list is not exhaustive, and your child can benefit from seeing a therapist even if the concern isn’t listed here.
Let’s be real. No family has ever come skipping into my office whistling tunes from “The Sound of Music”. Unfortunately, there is still way too much stigma and embarrassment around the utilization of mental health services. It’s utterly stupid and ridiculous, but it’s the reality we live in. Even I have experienced these feelings in reaching out on my own family’s behalf, and I’m a therapist.
Having these feelings is normal, but don’t let them hold you back from acting in your child’s best interest. Acknowledge these thoughts as having zero validity, and move forward with the conviction that you are responsible for caring for and supporting your child’s health needs.
There may be other mental barriers causing you or your partner to hesitate before reaching out to a mental health professional, whether they be money, time, or “maybe they’ll grow out of it.” Maybe they will, but is that a chance on which you’re willing bet your child’s well-being? Many therapists have a sliding scale to accommodate for those without insurance or with financial stressors.
In the world we live in, it has somehow become acceptable to put off counseling for club baseball practice. But if we look at neuroscience and the way our brains work, your child will not be able to perform academically or athletically to their full capacity if they have stress hormones surging through their body, or emotional needs that are going unmet.
The vast majority of pediatricians and family doctors have their own go-to trusted referrals for child therapists. You can also access qualified therapists through school counselors, insurance or work resources, mental health associations, or national organizations of professional therapists.
It doesn’t take long to realize our mental health system is not streamlined (don’t get me started on that), but don’t let that stop you from being the awesome advocate and parent you are for your child.
One of my favorite things to hear from parents is this: “I wanted to get a handle on it now, before it became too much of a problem.” The earlier children receive support, the better the prognosis.
After all, what harm can come from spending an hour consulting with a professional who’s invested their career in supporting children and families just like yours? I promise, therapists are not the weirdos we’re made out to be in the media (not the vast majority, at least).
The goal is that both you and your child will leave your therapist’s office breathing a little easier.