Seeking out professional help often feels like a big step for families to take, especially when you are faced with difficulties with very young children. Beginning therapy can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking for parents and coupled with high costs of treatment and for some, limited access to good treatment, many families shy away from getting professional help until they feel there are no other options available (2017 study of parent barriers to treatment). Sometimes, this results in years of negative experiences where parents and children fall deeper into adverse cycles of behavior and typically these behaviors impact others outside of the immediate family. This can mean school behaviors, relationships with extended family or friends, and academic achievement, among many other things.
Given the barriers to treatment and the impact, it is important to decide when your family needs professional help. When making this choice, there are some important things to consider:
- Your child is engaging in unsafe behaviors. If a child is cutting, threatening self-injury or has taken action to hurt themselves or others, it is time to seek professional help immediately. You cannot monitor your child 24/7 and most parents do not have the skills to support a child experiencing such significant distress that self-harm feels like the only option.
- You feel like you have tried everything to help manage your child’s disruptive behaviors. With the internet and many resources available for free, trying to apply good parenting strategies on your own is a great beginning! These resources can be especially helpful if you are noticing a shift in behavior in reaction to a situational change (e.g. starting school, break with friends, moving) and you want to see if you can help your child through a stressful time. However, if your child’s behavior is causing chronic difficulty at home or in school, it is probably time to seek help. These behaviors can also be a sign of an underlying issue such as anxiety or learning problems. School phone calls home, suspensions, exceedingly long tantrums, and daily arguments can quickly spiral into a significant problem. You want to get help before you start to dread or even avoid going home to your child.
- Your anxious or depressed child is avoiding everyday interactions and experiences. The longer your child stays away from typical experiences, the harder those behaviors are to break. Kids get really good at avoiding and parents get really good at helping their child to avoid! Exposures to fears and things that a child does not want to do because of excessive sadness is essential to helping them reintegrate into experiences that are key for their development. A mental health professional is the best person to help guide you through these exposures before you and your child start to avoid the activities and experiences that are the whole fun of being a kid. If your child is stating a lack of interest, engaging in tantrums, or consistently “sick” when faced with school, playdates, or birthday parties, it is time to seek help.
As a final thought, remember that mental health services are intended to help your family and with good treatment, it should not last forever. Even when problems aren’t as severe, seeking help can be beneficial for learning new strategies and coping skills. By gaining skills for managing everyday experiences, you and your child will feel more in control of your life, often making for a happier life.
*If you are considering engaging in treatment with our practice and are not sure if you are ready, please reach out to our front desk at 212-658-0110. We would be happy to set up an informational call with a clinician to discuss what treatment may be appropriate for your family and what it would entail.