6 Signs Your Child May Need Therapy

A young boy is sharing and talking with a child psychologist in therapy. She is smiling and taking notes while she listens to him.

Gabriela Nunez, PsyD
Pediatric Psychologist
CHRISTUS Children’s
Assistant Professor, Baylor College of Medicine

Note: If you, your child, or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, do not wait. Go to the nearest emergency room or contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately by texting or calling 988.

Children and teenagers need help navigating difficult situations and life stressors. They rely on you to talk to them and problem-solve with them when things get too hard.

They also need to feel safe, loved, and supported throughout these challenges that surface.

Naturally, life stressors or changes in your child’s life comes with emotional ups and downs. Some meltdowns, moodiness, sadness, struggles with relationships and school, and anxiety are normal.

However, for some parents, these normal changes in mood and behavior can be challenging and may leave you wondering if you and your child may need extra support or new skills in managing these feelings and behaviors.

Here are some signs your child may need therapy:

1. Problem-solving Issues

You have tried to problem-solve with your child and get to the root of the problem but have not resolved the issues.

Despite efforts to listen to your child and offer advice, your child might be refusing your help. This can happen for various reasons. They could be trying to spare your feelings and protect you from worrying.

Other times, they may think sharing with you will not have a good outcome and their problem will not be resolved or worsen. When this happens, your child may need help from another safe adult, and this sometimes means a therapist.

2. Sudden Shift in Habits or Interests

You know your child better than anyone else so when they change from being their usual self, this can be alarming.

Changes in habits can look like problems with sleep or restlessness, adopting different eating habits (excessive eating or avoiding meals), and/or pulling away from activities they typically enjoy.

As children grow, their interests will naturally change too. For example, younger kids may play with toys and as they age, they may no longer need their “stuffy” or “comfort blanket.”

However, these changes in interest happen gradually. When a sudden change in things they enjoy occurs, this may be a sign your child is going through something.

3. Drastic Mood or Temperament Change

As stated earlier, changes in mood are normal especially when in response to stress at home or school.

However, if your child is excessively worrying or sad, despite you validating their feelings and reassuring them, then it may be time for additional help through therapy.

Sometimes children have some mild mood swings, apparently out of nowhere. This is because their brains are developing, and new learning is occurring.

As kids age, they learn to regulate their emotions better. However, for some children and teenagers, these mood shifts or mood swings can be severe.

If their moodiness changes from occasionally to almost daily and from short periods to more regular, long-lasting periods, and they are exhibiting more defiant behaviors than you can manage then it is time to seek additional help for them through therapy.

4. Socially Withdrawing

When children are sad or anxious, they may turn their problems inward and begin to avoid social situations, peers, and relatives they typically enjoy.

When this begins to happen more regularly, this can be cause for concern. Normally, children will withdraw temporarily but they eventually open up to a safe adult, friend, or relative.

Your child may be struggling to open up when they avoid talking or expressing what the problem is despite obvious signs they are shutting down, they do not care or have interest in things they normally get excited over, and/or they turn down opportunities with friends with whom they typically enjoy spending time.

5. Regressing to Younger Behavior

Children tend to grow more independent as they age. If your child is regressing to behaviors younger than is age-appropriate like thumb-sucking, rocking, and/or sleeping in bed with you again, then this may be worth looking into.

They may also be clingier or have separation anxiety when you are gone, their learning might take a halt, or their academic performance might decline considerably.

Talk to your child’s teachers and if they recommend further assistance, your child may need therapy.

6. Talks of Self-harm or Suicide

If your child is talking about self-harm behaviors, immediate help is needed, and you should schedule a psychological evaluation or an initial mental health therapy visit.

If they have already engaged in self-harm or have a plan to hurt themselves, you should immediately take your child to the nearest hospital emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation or drive them to a children’s psychiatric hospital.

Note: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately by texting or calling: 988

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