Kids are bound to face challenges and struggle as they learn and grow. But as a parent, how do you know what a “normal” struggle is, and what might be a “red flag”? And if you suspect it’s the latter, is it serious enough that your child needs to see a psychologist?
There are so many factors that influence children’s well-being, and every child deals with them differently. It isn’t always clear what to do as a parent, and many parents find themselves questioning whether or not something is worth worrying about at one point or another.
If your child’s behaviour seems worrying occasionally or on an infrequent basis, then it may not be much of a cause for concern. But if it persists for several weeks or months, it could be an indication that it’s time to talk to a professional.
Here are some of the behavioural signs to look out for.
Difficulty With Daily Life
A good place to start is by paying closer attention to how your child handles their day-to-day tasks and how they engage in their daily activities. If they’re experiencing problems in multiple areas of their life — including family relationships, peer relationships, academic performance, leisure activities, eating, and sleeping habits — it could mean that something is off.
Does your child constantly seek information from social media in their spare time, or ask you for reassurance about the future? If they do, this could be a sign of increased anxiety. If you notice that they tend to withdraw from family and friends by spending most of their time isolating themselves in their room or at home, this is another sign that they could use some extra support from a psychologist.
Increased Emotional Distress
It’s normal for kids to experience strong emotional reactions, but it’s important to stay aware of any trends in their behaviour that could suggest prolonged feelings of fear, anxiety, or depression. In younger children, this often shows up through increased clinginess. A child who clings to their parents doesn’t feel confident enough to deal with something on their own.
Older children and adolescents can become more irritable if they’re in distress, which can cause them to react impulsively and emotionally — even to some of the most trivial things. This might also come in the form of verbal aggression or arguments.
Bad, Risky or Destructive Behaviour
When children feel sad, angry, or frustrated, they tend to express their emotions through negative behaviour. Younger children (toddlers in particular) might engage in head banging, biting, hitting, or kicking. Older kids might get into fights with their siblings or peers, act out at home or at school, skip school, steal, or talk back to their parents or teachers.
In addition to staying aware of behaviours that involve destroying property, be on the lookout for self-destructive behaviours like hair pulling, skin picking, or using sharp items to poke or cut the skin. They might seem subtle, but persistent acts of self-harm could suggest that your child is struggling to process feelings of anger, resentment, or emotional pain.
If you notice that your child doesn’t seem to act their age, it could simply mean that they’re trying to cope with a major life change. It’s completely normal for children to revert back to behaviours that they’ve grown out of if they’re dealing with a stressful situation — like starting school, moving, or the arrival of a new sibling.
However, if this behaviour lasts over an extended period of time, it could be a sign of a behavioural problem. Regression comes in many forms, but some of the most common include bedwetting, clinginess, tantrums, whining, thumb sucking, or wanting a bottle or pacifier.
Complaints of Physical Symptoms
As children grow up, they naturally become more aware of the physical sensations they feel and might complain to their parents more often when they start to notice discomfort. An occasional stomach ache after eating too much or a headache after a poor night’s sleep is normal, but if it’s happening a lot, a psychologist can help you and your child get to the root of the problem.
Physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a racing heart, shaking, and sweating could be a sign that your child is feeling especially anxious about something. A psychologist can help your child find the connection between the physical symptoms they’re experiencing and what they’re worried about so they can regain their sense of control.
It’s healthy for kids to talk to their parents about any negative emotions they may be feeling, but as a parent, it’s important to listen carefully to what they’re saying and watch how frequently they talk about it. if your child talks in a way that suggests they feel very bad about themselves, perhaps saying things like, “I wish I weren’t here,” or “Nobody would care if I were gone” — take that as a warning sign.
If your child talks about or asks about death, consider it no big deal if they’re doing so out of curiosity and their natural drive to learn more about life. However, if you start noticing that they talk about death, dying, or killing on a frequent basis, it’s time to get immediate help from a professional.
Should Your Child See a Psychologist?
It’s quite normal for children to adopt any of the above behaviours on occasion — particularly when they’re dealing with stressful situations in life. Having said that, these behaviours can become red flags when they trend over a long period of time, or get increasingly worse.
Psychologists are trained mental health professionals that can carefully and compassionately assess your child to determine any issues or disorders, then offer a personalized treatment plan (if needed). Our goal is to teach your child the skills they need to manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in a safe and healthy way.
If you’re not sure whether your child needs a psychologist, feel free to contact us and provide a brief description about what’s going on with your child so we can determine whether it’s necessary to move on with an initial session. Or, if you’re ready to talk to someone, you can book your first appointment with us now.