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Five tips for parents to help you decide if your child needs therapy

“Maybe it’s just a phase.”

“They’re just being a teenager.”

“They haven’t told me something is wrong.”

“If I take them to therapy, does that mean I failed as a parent?”

Do any of these thoughts sound familiar? 

Deciding if your child or teenager needs to see a therapist is an incredibly difficult decision. It can be scary, it can dredge up negative thoughts and fears, and it can leave parents feeling a bit overwhelmed. Here are some helpful guidelines for parents to determine if their child would benefit from therapy: 

  1. There has been a major change in your family. Change is stressful and even as adults we struggle when our lives shift. This is no different for children and teenagers. Changes that occur, such as: divorce, marriage, moving, financial problems, changing schools, death of a loved one, and job loss, are all events that could warrant seeing a therapist to help navigate through the change and manage the stress that the situation brings. Children and teens are perceptive, and even when we don’t think they notice; they do. 

  2. Noticeable changes in sleep, eating and weight. Normal growth in children triggers small disruptions in sleep patterns and eating. However, if you notice your child has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, is experiencing nightmares, or is sleeping way too much; it may be beneficial to bring them in to see a therapist. In addition, if you notice that your child or teenager is experiencing significant weight gain or loss coupled with behaviors such as restricting food intake, skipping meals, or making frequent trips to the bathroom after eating, seeing a therapist would help determine an eating disorder and offer appropriate treatment. 

  3. Constant or excessive statements about fears and/or worry. Everyone is guilty of worry at some time or another. However, it is time to consider therapy when your child or teen worries excessively to the point where that is all they think about, it affects their participation in activities (not wanting to go to school),  or it causes them physical symptoms such as: shaking, crying, stomach troubles, etc.  Also, if they are putting extreme expectations on themselves with things like grades, scholarships, college, or performance in sports or extracurricular activities and those expectations cause them significant stress or worry, it might be time to consider therapy. 

  4. Behavior changes such as irritability or isolation. If your easy-going, happy, outgoing child or teen starts behaving differently, and you notice them flying off the handle at every little situation or occurrence it might be time to consider therapy. While “having attitude” or having “blow-ups” can be a normal part of growing and navigating relationships, it is important to recognize when their irritability exceeds “normal” limits. In addition, most teens don’t necessarily enjoy hanging out with their parents, they much prefer their friends. While not hanging out with mom and dad is normal, isolating themselves to their room, spending a lot of time alone, and avoiding any and all activities can certainly be cause for concern. 

  5. Parent intuition says, “Something's just not right.” You are the expert in your child. If you feel that something is off, or you have a gut feeling that they are struggling, it is best to call and set up an appointment. From there, you, your child, and the therapist will be able to evaluate the pros and cons of starting therapy. 

While this list is not all inclusive, it does encompass several indicators that therapy might be a good option. If you’ve read this and have determined that your child or teenager might benefit from starting therapy or you’ve been wanting to help your child but didn’t know how, Wyoming Center for Clinical Excellence can help. 

You might experience a lot of emotions at the conclusion of your child starting therapy and we want you to know that all these emotions are normal and absolutely okay. WCCE therapist Andrea Robertson has worked with children and adolescents for several years and has specialized training in working with children, adolescents and families. 

Contact WCCE to see if your child would benefit from therapy (307)257-2610 or email [email protected].

Andrea Robertson, MSW, PLCSW, is a co-founder of the Wyoming Center for Clinical Excellence. She has a background understanding the complex needs of veterans and their families, and sub-specialized in military social work. Andrea is well trained in group psychotherapy and has a passion for facilitating connections among people to achieve a greater sense of self, and a greater sense of belonging.