Children can develop the same mental health conditions as adults. However, they often display these symptoms differently. It can be difficult to identify mental health disorders in children because normal childhood development is a process that involves significant change. Knowing what to watch for can help you determine if your child needs mental health counseling.
Early Mental Health Warning Signs in Children
Pay close attention to what your child does and says about themselves. Children often lack the language to articulate complex emotions, but they will show their distress in other ways. Keeping track of these out-of-the-ordinary patterns can also help point you towards what the problem might be.
Socially withdrawn children avoid activities where they will have to interact with other people. Your child may be suffering from an underlying anxiety disorder or could be showing signs they are neurodivergent. However, the desire to be alone may not be a red flag, but simply part of your child’s personality.
Outbursts or Extreme Irritability
Most children have occasional tantrums or meltdowns. They might lash out when frustrated or if they feel they are being misunderstood. However, if your child is having regular outbursts, this can be a symptom of some underlying distress. Try to determine what is triggering this behavior to see if there is a pattern. Possible underlying causes can be they are feeling:
- Tired, hungry, or overstimulated
- Out of control/powerless
- Unheard or hurt
- Unable to verbalize what they need
- Anxious or stressed
Drastic Changes in Mood, Behavior, or Personality
One easy indicator of something being wrong is persistent sadness. Sadness is perfectly normal after a significant event, such as a death of a loved one or pet. However, sadness that persists for more than a few weeks can be a cause for concern.
Another warning sign can be increased negative self-talk. Children are naturally inclined to believe that the world revolves around them and their actions or thoughts. It is easy for children to blame themselves for things going wrong in their lives, even unrelated external events. Consistent negative self-talk can become an unhealthy pattern. Without intervention, this line of thinking can lead to low self-esteem and anxiety.
Changes in Eating Or Sleeping Habits
If a child feels out of control in their lives, they might try to gain some control through changes to their eating or sleeping habits. Eating disorders are diagnosable in children as young as three years old. The signs of eating disorders include:
- Lack of interest in food
- Aversion to certain tastes or textures
- Fears of stomach aches or vomiting due to certain foods
- Excessive bowel movements
- Concern over body image
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
Eating habits and sleeping habits often go hand in hand. When one habit is disordered, it affects the other. Watch for if your child is awake during strange hours, and asleep when they should be awake. Staying up too late might be a method to gain control over their time (such as if their schedules are too packed). Additionally, if your child is oversleeping – more than sleeping in on the weekends – talk to a health care provider to see if it is a cause for concern.
Changes in Academic Performance
Many parents are not aware their child is in distress until their performance at school is disrupted. Changes in their ability to concentrate, or seeking to avoid or miss school is an indicator of distress. Communicate with your child’s teacher to see if they have noticed any patterns in their behavior.
Types of Mental Health Counseling for Kids
Once you have determined your child needs mental health counseling, you might pursue a specific route depending on the source of the issues. If your child or teen is showing the early signs of a mental disorder, then mental health counseling is a good option to explore.
Another significant reason for a change in a child’s behavior can be if you and your partner are going through a separation or divorce. Child divorce counseling is available for your child or teen to help them process the divorce. Additionally, other services, such as co-parenting counseling can help you learn how to work well as a team in raising your child.
Aside from individual or couples counseling, there is also Strategic Family Therapy that involves the whole family. Parents, guardians, siblings, and anyone else involved in your child’s life attend therapy together to get to the root of the problem. Strategic therapy aims to change behaviors and communication patterns to make home life more cooperative and peaceful.
Children can develop the same kinds of mental health conditions as adults. Mental disorders such as anxiety or depression can often present early warning signs. Look out for symptoms such as social withdrawal, uncontrolled outbursts, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, or changes in academic performance. If you determine that your child needs mental health counseling for a possible disorder, consider mental health counseling for children. Additionally, if the problem is environmental, your family might benefit from couples counseling or strategic family therapy to overcome these issues.
Family Strategies Counseling and Mediation is a child and family therapy office located in Homewood, IL. We offer mental health counseling, couples counseling, anger management, and child therapy. See our about page to see which of our therapists are currently booking in-person and online appointments.