Understanding Your Child’s BehaviorDec 05, 2020 10:11AM ● By erica wassenaar
By: Erica Wassenaar, LMHC, RPT, Creative Living Center P.C. and Holly Liston, LPC-MH, Yellow Brick Road Counseling and Therapy
There are times when it’s clearly not a good idea to wait to get your child help for mental health issues.
Eating disorders: The longer a child lives with an eating disorder, the harder it is to recover. Getting treatment as quickly as possible can save her life.
Family history: If mental illness runs in your family, be aware of the increased possibility that your child will begin to develop a disorder. In this case it’s important to act promptly.
Cutting: If you discover your child has been hurting herself, even if she says it was a one-time thing, it’s important to get help. It’s dangerous behavior that may be her way of dealing with a serious mental health issue.
How long you decide to monitor feelings and behaviors that concern you, or “symptoms,” depends on the age of your child and what you think is wrong.
If your child’s behavior is causing her chronic trouble in school or is seriously disrupting your family life, it’s important to get help. Disruptive, explosive or dangerous behavior can be generated by anxiety, trauma and frustration from an undiagnosed learning problem, among other things.
Once you understand what’s behind your child’s behavior, there are often therapies that can be effective in teaching kids to rein in their behavior. If a child is out of control with parents or teachers, she needs help. It can impact the health and well-being of your whole family.
For behavior problems, you’ll want to consult a mental health professional who can help diagnose and treat behavior disorders. You can consult a behavioral psychologist who specializes in children and adolescents, a child psychiatrist or a social worker with expertise in treating young people.
If a child seems unusually anxious or sad or irritable for a long period of time and it’s interfering with her ability to do things that are appropriate for kids her age, it’s a good idea to seek help. A child who is seriously anxious or depressed is not just suffering. She’s missing out on important parts of childhood. You want to get her help as soon as possible, before she falls behind her peers in social and academic development.
It’s also a good idea because the longer your child lives with something like anxiety, the likelier it is to shape her behavior in harmful ways. A young child who couldn’t sleep apart from her parents might become a school-age child who can’t have sleepovers with friends or go to camp. A child who is excessively fearful could become an adolescent whose identity and social life are structured around avoiding things that make her anxious.
It is important to document when you see changes in your child's behavior. Notice times of day and patterns of behaviors. Also understand development phases of childhood and be aware of what is normal behavior for that age. Even children as young as 2 or 3 could benefit from therapy when there are behavior or family (divorce, moving, new baby) concerns.
If you decide to wait to get help, keep an eye on the problem and be ready to act if it doesn’t improve. Monitoring your child’s behavior can help you collect valuable information. What you don’t want to do is ignore a problem.