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When to Seek Help for Your Child

You probably know the child in your care better than anyone and can instinctively understand that he or she has a problem with emotions or behavior that require the help of a professional. However, it can be painful and difficult to make that step and ask for help.

Consult with the child’s physicians, teachers, spiritual leaders and other adults who know the child well. Talk openly and honestly with the child in a gentle way to see if you can resolve the issues.

The American Association Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers the following signs that may indicate that a child or adolescent evaluation might be useful:

Younger Children

  • Marked fall in school performance.
  • Poor grades in school despite trying very hard.
  • Severe worry or anxiety, as shown by regular refusal to go to school, goes to sleep or takes part in activities that are normal for the child’s age.
  • Hyperactivity; fidgeting; constant movement beyond regular playing.
  • Persistent nightmares.
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression (longer than 6 months) and provocative opposition to authority figures.
  • Frequent, unexplainable temper tantrums.

Pre-Adolescents and Adolescents

  • Marked change in school performance.
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities.
  • Marked changes in sleeping and/or eating habits.
  • Frequent physical complaints.
  • Sexual acting out.
  • Depression shown by sustained, prolonged negative mood and attitude, often accompanied by poor appetite, difficulty sleeping or thoughts of death.
  • Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Intense fear of becoming obese with no relationship to actual body weight, purging food or restricting eating.
  • Persistent nightmares.
  • Threats of self-harm or harm to others.
  • Self-injury or self-destructive behavior.
  • Frequent outbursts of anger, aggression.
  • Threats to run away.
  • Aggressive or non-aggressive consistent violation of rights of others; opposition to authority, truancy, thefts, or vandalism.
  • Strange thoughts, beliefs, feelings, or unusual behaviors.

If problems persist over an extended period of time and especially if others involved in the child’s life are concerned, consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other clinician specifically trained to work with children may be helpful.

Where can I find help?