does my child need to go to therapy?
While many kids who need mental health assistance never receive it, others are unnecessarily brought to speak with a therapist.
- The real problem is elsewhere. Parents sometimes seek assistance for their child when the underlying issue is something else. Kids are amazingly perceptive when their parents are experiencing marital turmoil, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, or marital infidelity. In these circumstances, well-meaning parents will bring their child to a therapist so she will have “someone to talk with” about this turmoil. Don’t bother. Your child will get better when you focus your attention on the real problem. End a chronically toxic relationship. Seek help for your alcoholism. Improve your marital relationship, or seek a separation. Having your child talk with me about those problems accomplishes very little.
- Your consequences are inconsistent. Kids need clear rules, and consistent consequences. You know that. There is no need to waste your time and money having someone tell you what you already know. If the problem is your lack of self-control in being consistent with your children, then seek help for yourself, not for your children.
- You haven’t focused on basic needs. Over the past 20 years, we’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of sleep to children’s mental health. Kids’ behaviors, attention, social interactions and emotional control can improve dramatically when they get adequate sleep. If your child is getting either an insufficient amount or inadequate quality of sleep, focus on that problem. Remove electronics from your child’s bedroom, maintain a sleep routine, limit caffeine, and keep the bedroom cool and dark. Seek help from a sleep expert if your child’s problems continue.
- Your child’s behaviors are normal. It’s hard to know what is developmentally normal. This can be particularly challenging for first-time parents without a support system. There are times children misbehave, say something hurtful to you or others, or act in ways that appear to make no sense. Adolescence can be tough for kids, and their parents. Your child is entering adulthood, and is separating from you in ways that may feel painful. Speak with your family doctor, talk with friends, or read about normal childhood development to avoid misinterpreting normal childhood behavior.
- The problems are short-term. Try some things on your own before seeking professional help. There are exceptions to this guideline, such as when there are issues of self-harm or child abuse. Reach out immediately if you become aware of those problems.
- You can’t make a commitment. Therapy with a child takes time, typically weekly sessions over a period of two to three months. Don’t start that process if you don’t have the resources to make that level of commitment.