5 Subtle Signs Your Child Needs Counseling

5 Subtle Signs Your Child Needs Counseling: 5 Insights from a Child Therapist [stock photo of a counselor talking to a young girl] suchalittlewhile.com

This post has been guest authored by Michael Vallejo, LCSW/Child & Family Therapist.

If you’re a parent, you may find yourself worrying about your child, especially when you notice that they’re struggling with something. Being aware of the signs your child needs counseling will help you know when to reach out to a mental health professional.

Counseling can be a helpful resource for children who are facing challenges, such as anxiety, trauma, or their parents’ divorce. If you want to know how to best support your child’s mental health, keep on reading.

5 Warning signs Your Child May Need Counseling (Key Insights from a Child Therapist)

Text overlay stock photo of a young girl looking solemn and hugging her knees.


What is Child Counseling?

Child counseling is a mental health treatment designed to address the emotional, behavioral, and psychological health of children. The goal is to help the child deal with challenges and develop healthy coping skills.

Child counselors are trained to work with young people and create a safe and supportive environment where they can express their thoughts. 

Common reasons to seek child counseling include:

  • Emotional challenges such as anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma
  • Behavioral issues, including aggression and defiance
  • Life transitions such as relocation or parents divorcing
  • Relationship concerns in their peer groups and within families

With increasing awareness about mental health, many people now view counseling positively. More and more parents are recognizing it as a helpful and supportive resource for helping overcome life’s challenges, improving mental health, and enhancing personal growth in children.

5 Subtle Signs to Look For When Considering Child Counseling

Children, especially young children, may not have the communication skills to tell you what they are going through. As a result, recognizing the signs early on can help you identify if your child may need counseling:

1. Changes in Behavior

Behavior that differs from usual could signal that your child is facing something challenging. Be on the lookout for the following changes:

  • Regression, or reverting to behaviors more typical for a younger age, such as thumb-sucking and bedwetting
  • Aggressive or violent behavior, such as lashing out, throwing tantrums, or chronic irritability
  • Changes in hygiene habits, such as neglecting personal care routines
  • Self-harming behaviors such as hair-pulling, skin-picking, or cutting

For example, some kids who have post-traumatic stress disorder might be prone to angry outbursts in addition to other symptoms. Other kids might also act out more often if they are struggling to accept their parents’ divorce. 

2. Difficulty in School

Children who are struggling internally can experience difficulty in school. For instance, you might notice a decline in their academic performance and lower grades. Some kids might also be less motivated to do schoolwork. 

Children experiencing emotional challenges may struggle to concentrate in class, leading to distractibility. 

Bullying is also another difficulty children face in school. Kids who are bullied might not want to go to school, causing them to miss important lessons and struggle with schoolwork. On the other hand, a child who is bullying others might get sent to detention often. 

3. Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms do not necessarily indicate that a child needs counseling but are worth investigating to see if there might be emotional reasons behind them.

For example, anxiety can cause headaches or stomachaches in children. Moreover, chest pain, a racing heart, and sweating can indicate that your child is having a panic attack. 

Stress can also cause aches and pains, muscle tension, stomach problems, and a weak immune system. There’s a good reason to feel concerned about physical symptoms without any obvious medical cause, as they may be linked to your child’s emotional distress. 

4. Social Withdrawal

Some children prefer to be alone, but others may isolate themselves as a coping mechanism because of their internal struggles. 

Take, for instance, a once-vibrant child who loved spending time with friends. They abruptly start spending more time alone and avoid joining group activities at school. From lively conversations with friends, their responses become short and quiet.

Social withdrawal can result from anxiety, social fear, fear of rejection, low self-esteem, depression, or bullying.

5. Changes in Sleep or Eating Patterns

Changes in sleep or eating patterns could be a sign of stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, bullying, grief, family issues, or mental health disorders in children.

A child experiencing emotional distress may struggle to relax and fall asleep. Some children may also use sleep as an escape from the challenges they are facing. 

On the other hand, children may also lose their appetite, have a sudden aversion to specific foods, or overeat.

The Importance of Open Communication

Not all children will tell you that they are struggling internally. Understanding and managing emotions, feelings, and moods can be challenging enough for adults, so children will also find it difficult. 

Providing a safe space for communication without judgment can help children feel more secure and free to express themselves. 

This way, you can identify potential triggers for their negative emotions and struggles.

When you let your child talk openly, you can better understand what they’re experiencing and easily spot changes in their mood and behavior. This can help you recognize the potential signs that counseling may be needed. 

When and How to Seek Professional Help

Counselors can provide support to children who are having difficulty with life challenges or experiencing difficulties understanding and managing their emotions.

If you notice any persistent and concerning signs of distress in your child, don’t hesitate to contact a counselor. Any sign of self-harming behaviors and suicidal thoughts requires immediate attention from a mental health professional.

If you’re looking for a counselor, you can start by asking your pediatrician for recommendations. School counselors may also have suggestions regarding counseling services available in your community. 

Additionally, you may also ask for referrals from friends or support groups who have experience in child counseling.

Know That You’re Not Alone

It’s natural to worry if you see signs that your child is struggling. But remember that with your love and guidance, your child can overcome any obstacles they face. 

Moreover, knowing that there are times when you might need some help is a good way to handle being a parent. Everyone goes through tough times, and asking for help is a smart move to make things better for you and your child.

Recognize that you are not alone, and counselors can help address your child’s needs.

Michael is a licensed clinical social worker with a private therapy practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He specializes in helping children and teens with mental health concerns. He is passionate about providing effective and compassionate care.

Michael is an advocate for mental health awareness, and is the founder of Mental Health Center Kids, a website that provides resources and support for parents, teachers, and mental health professionals who care for children and teens.

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