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Does My Kid Need Therapy?

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"I'm writing to ask for some advice about my 6-year-old son. I think he might need to see a therapist," began an e-mail we recently received from a single mom.

sad looking little boy

Single Mom Seeking: She went on to say that her son has always been melodramatic and assertive -- but she's concerned his behavior is getting out of control. He's more aggressive. And he's arguing and back-talking a lot more often.

"He seems so angry," she adds. "My ex and I got separated two years ago and this has been tough for our son. We moved out, and he has changed schools twice. I'm seriously dating someone now, and his dad has moved in with his girlfriend and her daughter. His teacher wants me to talk with the school counselor. I talk to the teacher on the telephone almost every day.

"So, my question is: How do you know if your kid needs therapy?"

Here's what the Sanity Fairy, a.k.a. Dr. Leah Klungness, suggests:

No one knows your child better than you. When you know in your heart that things are not right for your child, this is the time to consider speaking with a mental health professional.

'Not right' can take many forms, such as moodiness, sadness, aggression, acting out, or changes in sleep and/or eating habits. Frequent and lengthy conversations with your child's teacher are a red flag. If your child's teacher suggests that you speak with the school counselor or school psychologist, this is 'teacher speak' for 'your child is experiencing difficulties out of the normal range.'

Some children adapt more easily to change than others. If your child has experienced many changes, like frequent moves, new school, or adapting to parents' new partners, your child may be at higher risk for emotional problems. If your child is not right, he/she is suffering just like a child would from a physical ailment.

Don't let pride, denial, or the 'blame game' with the other parent interfere in getting the help your child needs.

Often the best place to start is by getting some help yourself. Consider getting short-term counseling focused on your parenting choices and challenges at home.

Here's why: For things to get better for your child, things must change. Deciding what has to change and how these changes will be implemented are adult decisions. Your little guy has basically no control over what's happening in his home life.

If you've been through a divorce, did your kids go to therapy? Comment below.

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24 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kristen September 18, 2009, 6:35 AM

My thought on this is if the mother feels concerned and is asking these questions to herself then that says to me that she should go with her gut and DEFINATLEY see a therapist for her child. I agree 100% with the fact that she needs to be involved. People kept telling me my daughter was fine and going through the terrible two’s but I knew that something was wrong, sure enough our daughter has an autism spectrum disorder(I’m not saying this mother’s child has anything like that). Mom you need to go with your gut!

BigLittleWolf September 18, 2009, 9:27 AM

I think therapy is a terrific option for some kids, and necessary. And I do think a parent knows when it’s needed.

It’s obviously critical to find the right therapist, and also to determine if it’s better to have the child in therapy, or the parent, who uses what the therapist or counselor provides to help address the child’s issues.

Of course, during separation and divorce, both time and money can be a problem. And the parent’s own struggles as well. Many counselors will work with you to find an affordable solution, particularly if there are children involved.

I think ANY kid is impacted by parents splitting up, whatever the circumstances. Two children in the same situation can respond very differently. One of mine was angry, and talked about it openly. He “healed” faster. The other withdrew, and took his pain out on himself. It took nearly 3 years for him to be in a healthier place. And, the kindness, expertise, and wisdom of a fine therapist, working through me so I could help my child.

I will forever be grateful to that individual. My kids will never know how much they owe to him. But I certainly do.

SharaPCS September 18, 2009, 12:42 PM

During my divorce, years ago, I did take my son to therapy, yes. He attended ‘play therapy’ once a week for several months. It was a huge help - he was able to play with the gal (board games, etc) and he would relax enough to express his feelings and talk things through. I repeated the play therapy at home. I would highly recommend it!!

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