When is it time to get my child help for mental health issues?

When children have emotional or behavioral problems, the earlier they get treatment, the easier it is to help them. But as parents, you also want to avoid unnecessary treatment and costs in both time and money.

There are times when it’s a good idea to watch and wait before seeking help. For example, life events like divorce or a new sibling will cause changes in a child’s behavior. This often passes as the child adjusts to the new situation.

But there are other times when it’s clearly not a good idea to wait to get your child help for mental health issues. For instance:

  • Eating disorders: The longer a child lives with an eating disorder, the harder it is to recover. Getting treatment as quickly as possible can save your child’s life.

  • Family history: If mental illness runs in your family, be aware of the increased possibility that your child will begin to develop a disorder. In this case, it’s important to act promptly.

  • Cutting and other self-harm: If you discover your child has been self-harming in any way, even if they say it was a one-time thing, it’s important to get help. It’s dangerous behavior that may be a way of dealing with a serious mental health issue. 

When to get help for behavior issues

If your child’s behavior is causing chronic trouble in school or is seriously disrupting your family life, it’s important to get help. Disruptive, explosive, or dangerous behavior can be caused by anxiety, trauma, and frustration from an undiagnosed learning problem, among other things.

When kids are out of control with parents or teachers, they need help. It can impact the health and well-being of your whole family.

For behavior problems, you’ll want to consult a mental health professional who can help diagnose and treat behavior disorders. You can consult a behavioral psychologist who specializes in children and adolescents, a child psychiatrist, or a social worker with expertise in treating young people.

When to get help for emotional issues

If a child seems unusually anxious, sad, or irritable for a long period of time and it’s interfering with the ability to do things that are appropriate for kids that age, it’s a good idea to seek help. Kids who are seriously anxious or depressed are not just suffering. They’re missing out on important parts of childhood. You want to get help as soon as possible, before your child falls behind in social and academic development.

It’s also a good idea because the longer kids live with something like anxiety, the likelier it is to shape their behavior in harmful ways. Young kids who couldn’t sleep apart from their parents might become school-age kids who can’t sleep over at their grandparent’s home or go to camp.

If you decide to watch and wait to get help, make sure to keep an eye on the problem and be ready to act if it doesn’t improve. Monitoring your child’s behavior can help you collect valuable information. What you don’t want to do is ignore a problem. Don’t convince yourself that “something” is “nothing.”

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