Being a parent is incredibly hard. You’re often juggling many different responsibilities while trying to ensure your child’s emotional health and physical wellbeing are also in a good place.
You might read segments from social media that tell you how to be a good parent, or signs to look out for, but you’re also aware that we all have highs and lows, so you don’t want to overreact when your child has a bad day.
As a child grows and develops, they continue to face the challenges of bodily and hormonal changes, friendships shifting and migrating, and modern schooling and testing. They start to develop their strengths and weaknesses and they’ll have good days and some very dark days. They need to know they have their parents’ acceptance and love, no matter what.
So when is it time to find a therapist for your child? When can you gauge that their struggles have gone beyond what is ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ and that professional support is needed?
From my many years as a qualified psychotherapist, there are six key signs to look out for:
A significant change in their mood and behaviour, compared to their usual baseline. Be careful not to compare your child to their friends, and be mindful of changes in personality and mood that are representative of their growth stage. Look for shifts that feel out of character for them. For example, if your child is usually outgoing and chatty, but suddenly seems shy and withdrawn, that’s a sign of something being up.
They’re struggling in different aspects of their life. Children will often try to ‘mask’ their issues, or hide them from parents, teachers and friends. This is considerably harder when they’re feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed, as these feelings will affect every aspect of their life. Take a look at how they’re performing at school, with their friends, at their extracurricular activities and how they’re behaving with you – if there are difficulties across the board, it’s time to seek help
Worrying excessively or seeming very sad. I’ve seen a significant increase in this since the pandemic, with more children worrying about awful things happening or those around them becoming seriously ill. This may also come with feeling lost or as though there’s little point to life. All of these are things to take seriously. Your child may be sharing these thoughts with you in the hope you’ll respond by seeking help.
Regressions. Regressions are most common around significant life changes – maybe the birth of a sibling, moving house or parents separating. If your child seems to be regressing for no known reason, take note. Regressions may include bed wetting, using ‘baby talk’, temper tantrums or excessive anxiety or fearfulness.
Self-harm or expressing a desire to end their life. Self-harm can be hard to spot – your child could be picking their skin, cutting themselves, pulling their hair or scratching repeatedly – it’s not always very noticeable. Observe changes in the way they dress - if they’re suddenly wearing looser clothing, or reluctant to show their arms/leg for example. If they’re expressing a wish for their life to end, this is a big red flag. Even if said in jest, take these comments seriously and seek professional help.
Unexplained health issues. These are a lot more common than you’d think – a lot of children internalise their struggles, so their anxiety, stress, depression or overwhelm may manifest itself in seemingly unexplained ways. If they’re often getting stomach upsets or headaches, colds and flus, they’re developing sleep issues or always seem fatigued – these are important signs to spot. We often find clients come to us when their GP has failed to find a medical explanation for their symptoms.
Getting help for your child needn’t be an arduous task – there are many online directories where you can search for a qualified therapist in your area and it’s always worth asking other professionals in your network for a recommendation.
For those based in London, or happy (and able) to work well over Zoom, my team and I would be happy to help. Be sure to check the qualifications and professional registrations of your child’s therapist so you can feel confident they’re in safe hands.
Many specialist mental health services will have a waiting list in place, so it’s best to seek support when you first have concerns, rather than wait until your child’s needs are more urgent as help may not be available immediately.
For more information, or for a confidential discussion about your child’s mental health, feel free to contact the wonderful team at Vitus Wellbeing:
Carly Webb is a qualified psychotherapist and founder of Vitus Wellbeing, a specialist private mental health clinic in London.
Vitus Wellbeing supports children, adolescents and adults with their mental health and relationships through the provision of expert child and adult psychotherapy and parent support coaching. All of our practitioners are highly qualified and experienced, as well as being warm, friendly and compassionate.