P&K How To: How To Know If Your Child Needs A Counselor
By Leah Kackley
Instinctually and intellectually, we understand that our emotions and thoughts matter and need to be healthy so that our bodies function correctly. As adults, we have the benefit of experience to help us rationalize difficult times of life. A young person doesn’t have that benefit and may at times need some help to keep his whole person healthy. Roe Hunter, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor with LifeWorks Counseling Center in Madison. He shares some warning signs that indicate when professional intervention is necessary for a child.
Here are eight warning signs that are not all-inclusive, but they comprise some of the major symptoms that indicate professional intervention is needed to help a child who may be in emotional pain.
1. Mood swings. I tell parents to look for any type of rigid feelings of sadness or withdrawal lasting for at least two weeks or longer. Children love to be in the company of their friends, and it is unusual for a child to prefer to be alone most of the time. If your child’s mood abruptly changes to unexplained or unreasonable terror, it is a strong indication that help is needed.
2. Overwhelming Feelings. If your child is fixated on fear and you find him expressing fear often for no apparent reason or worrying about things that would be considered abnormal for a child to worry about, it is a clear sign that professional help must be sought immediately. These excessive feelings of anxiety, usually accompanied by racing heartbeat or rapid breathing, may interfere with the child’s normal functioning.
3. Behavior Changes. Seeing your child’s behavior or personality drastically shift can be enough to alarm you, especially when the changes involve unsafe or out-of-control behaviors. For instance, if your kind, sweet-natured child suddenly starts picking fights at school or has aggressive tendencies toward others and self, it would be best to have him or her evaluated and diagnosed by a therapist.
4. Problems Concentrating. The attention span of younger children is normally sporadic, but tends to improve as they grow older. If you notice your child having trouble focusing or sitting still, or falling into frequent interludes of daydreaming, consider taking your child to a therapist so that concentration can be improved.
5. Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain. A sudden change in your child’s appetite, whether it is loss of appetite or binge eating, can be a sign of deeper emotional issues. Eating disorders have more to do with lack of control in difficult circumstances than the actual intake of food. Such eating problems can indicate that your child is struggling with anxiety, depression, or stress.
6. Frequent Complaints about Physical Symptoms. A wonderful book “The Body Keeps the Score” readily points out that our bodies can tell us more about our emotional states than our thoughts can. A child harboring an emotional issue may develop physical pain rather than feeling sad or fearful as an adult might. If your child frequently experiences headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, numbness, or lethargy, it is best to see your primary health care provider for a thorough medical assessment. If the physical symptoms persist after ruling out other ailments, your child may need to be evaluated by a therapist.
7. Self-Harming. Confused and unable to express intense, negative emotions, children are susceptible to self-harm. They may use it to channel their feelings, to seek temporary relief, or to punish themselves. Regardless of the underlying reason, it is a sign of poor emotional health. Behavior such as cutting or head banging is an alarming symptom that needs immediate professional intervention.
8. Substance Abuse. Drugs or alcohol could be resorted to by an emotionally unstable child to manage or mask negative feelings. It is important to act promptly by getting counseling for your child not only to prevent addiction, but to help restore your child’s emotional health and overall wellness.
From Roe Hunter, MA, LPC, NCC, a counselor with LifeWorks Counseling Center in Madison.