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Signs Your Child or Teen Should See a Counselor

Something just seems different: Many times parents cannot put their finger on what is wrong, they just know that their child does not seem the same. You know when their attitude or behaviors change, TRUST YOUR INSTINCT!

Comments like, “I wish I was dead” or “I’m going to kill myself” “I don’t want to live anymore”: For some children, this is a statement used when they can’t find the words to describe their upset. For other children, this statement is true and a serious announcement for help. Do not underestimate or minimize these words. Take them seriously, even if they try to take it back later. Talk to a professional to help you decide if your child is safe or not. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in Florida, Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 15-24.

Big life changes: Divorce, separation, blending families, parents’ job loss, moving, parent deployment, change of schools, and loss of a pet or loved one can have a huge impact on your child. Children are perceptive and may be affected by changes even if you think they are not aware of the changes or they are putting on a strong face and seem fine. Change is hard for adults, so when something changes in a child’s life they have to deal with the same challenges of being a kid and the life change.

Statements about fears/worries: Everyone worries sometimes, but if you notice your child’s worries seem to be getting to the point that they are bothered by them, they avoid certain activities or situations, or they engage in a pattern of behavior that is odd, it may be time to seek therapy.

Change in eating habits: (gaining or losing excessive amounts of weight): Many teenagers eat a lot, they choose unhealthy foods, and experience normal growth spurts. Some children appear to be eating normally but are losing or gaining weight rapidly. A change in your child’s weight may not be a cause for concern by itself, but if it is joined with other things on this list, you should follow up with the pediatrician at the very least. If you find out that your child is eating and making themselves vomit, or if they are restricting their food, it is cause for concern. Those types of behaviors need professional help and guidance.

Change in sleeping habits: As with eating patterns, sleeping habits change drastically as your child grows. However, if you notice your child is having difficulty falling asleep, waking up with nightmares, having difficulty falling back to sleep, or sleeping too much, it may be a sign that there is a bigger concern. Generally, 1-2 nights of poor sleep may be normal, but any changes that persists for a week or more are a concern. Again, you should follow up with the pediatrician at the very least.

Increased Irritability or Sadness: Younger children may have more frequent tantrums. Older children may display more “attitude”, or they may seem to be more easily annoyed by the behaviors of others. Things that were previously small now cause your child to react aggressively. This could be a sign that something else is going on and your child is having more difficulty managing their emotions. If you are seeing more tears than usual, or less laughter and smiles, it's a good idea to check in with a counselor.

Increased isolation: Most teenagers do not like to hang out with their parents on the weekend and may spend more time in their room. This by itself is not a concern, however, if your teen is spending more time alone, avoiding social events, sitting in their bedroom in the dark, or refusing to participate in any family activities (especially ones they enjoyed before), isolation may be a sign of something more serious.

Asking to go to therapy: If a child asks to go to therapy, they are expressing that they need help. You may feel like you can handle it, or that you’ve failed them, or fear judgment for taking your child to a counselor. In reality it’s an opportunity to provide them with the best support in their time of need and you will be involved in the process too.

There are many other reasons to get counseling for your child and your child and family can benefit from therapy. The fact that you are looking at this page says "something is going on with my child." You do not need to have all of the answers; your job is to share your concern with someone who can help. You may go to the counselor and they say your child is healthy and not to worry. That reassurance is worth the trip to the therapist; this is the same reason you go to see the pediatrician when they have a cough that has been hanging around just a little too long.