Being a parent can be tough. It is not uncommon to feel responsible when you sense that your child is suffering. Each child is unique, so how do you know when your child’s behavior is deviating from the norm? When is it appropriate to seek help for potentially damaging patterns or conduct you have noticed in your child? Although there are developmental milestones that every child should meet, not every child will be on the same path. Often there may be subtle changes you notice in your child which could point to a deeper issue. The decision to seek professional help can be a difficult leap for many parents.
Here are some behaviors to watch for:
Avoidance or general disinterest in activities she used to enjoy
Overly “clingy” behavior or fear of being alone
Oversensitivity to sights, sounds, smells and touch
Increase in anxiety or worry
Increase in tantrums or aggression
Problems with concentration or focus
Loss of appetite
Physical complaints (headaches, stomach ache, generalized pain)
Self-destructive behavior (intentionally hurting self)
If you notice a pattern with any of the above behaviors, seeking help as soon as possible is key. First, consult your child’s pediatrician to rule out anything medical. Some mental health issues can have acute onset but frequently the warning signs can be missed if the progression has been gradual.
Formal evaluation (testing) may be recommended as part of your child’s treatment. Educational testing through the public school system may be helpful. In addition, a doctor or mental health professional may recommend neuropsychological testing to rule out cognitive deficits, autism and other developmental delays. You may be advised to take your child to a mental health professional like a therapist or psychiatrist. Whatever the recommendation, ask questions and remember that you are your child’s best advocate.
You know your child better than anyone else. If something seems off to you, consult a professional. Trust your gut and remember that asking for help is a sign of strength. You don’t have to do this alone!
If your child ever discusses suicide, wanting to die or you notice signs of self-harm, take your child to your local emergency room immediately.
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