One of the most difficult things for parents must be to watch your child struggle and not know how to help them. What is possibly even more difficult is to not know if your child even needs help at all, or if their struggle is just an important and necessary part of growth. So how can you know when your child could benefit from therapy?
Children and teenagers often communicate when they are in need of support. Many times however, this communication is nonverbal, and if you do not look closely enough, you could miss it. Changes in a child’s sleep or eating habits could be a sign that something is amiss. Of course, this could be due to physical issues as well, so it is important in this case to get a doctor’s opinion. Difficulty focusing in school and in general, significant changes in their overall academic performance, shifts in mood, and acting out behaviors can also be indicators that something is bothering your child.
Some, if not most, of you might be thinking, “This is obvious! How do I know when therapy is really necessary?” You know your child better than anyone. If you feel that something is preventing your child from normal daily functioning, it might be helpful to speak to someone.
But still, why a therapist?
What can a therapist provide for your child that he or she would potentially not receive from someone else, like a parent, teacher, or friend? Of course there is the obvious answer, that a therapist should have advanced training and education in the clinical therapeutic field, and can use certain methods and tools that others may not know. It is really much more than that, however. A parent-child relationship is one of the most, if not THE most, important relationship in a person’s life. A parent shares an emotional connection with their child unlike any other. This is good and so necessary, but because they are so emotionally involved, it could make it difficult for a parent to look at the child’s situation with a degree of objectivity. A therapist, however, can be more objective. They can look at the situation with a broader perspective and help the child in whatever way necessary. This does not mean that a parent is unable to give their child what they need. But bringing their child to a therapist is the parent’s way of seeing their child, understanding what is right for them, and providing them with proper support.
It is also important to note that you are not alone in this decision. If you are unsure whether your child should see a therapist, it is important to communicate this to the therapist. The therapist can help you assess the needs of your child and inform you if they feel your child could benefit from therapy or not. This decision does not have to rest solely on your shoulders if you do not want it to.
Depending on your relationship with your child, their age and disposition, it could be the best plan of action to first speak to your child directly and see if they would like to see a therapist. Children can be very self-aware and know what they need. The most important thing: Trust yourself and your parental instincts. As they say,
“Mother (and/or father) knows best.”
Written by Lauren Kirschenbaum LMSW M.S.Ed, a therapist at Merchav L’Noar.