Earlier this week, we wrote about seven signs that someone might need professional help. Parents often ask the same questions about their kids. They don’t want to send their kids to be evaluated if there’s nothing to worry about; after all, consulting a mental health professional costs time and money, and could cause a little anxiety in the process. By the way, we usually suggest a quick check in with the pediatrician first because signs of what appear to be behavioral, emotional, or learning issues can be caused by physical problems and medical providers often know who to go to for mental health help.
Since the signs differ a little for kids versus adults, here’s a list of seven signs that tell you if your child needs further assessment:
1. Delayed development: Lists of what to expect in terms of behavior, emotions, and learning at various ages abound on the Internet. We even include a checklist in our recent book Child Psychology and Development For Dummies. Consult a few of these lists. If you see that your child seems to be falling significantly behind (not just a few weeks or one or two months), a screening evaluation is worth getting. Early intervention for kids’ problems has been found to work far more effectively than professionals used to believe for many delays in childhood development. Ignoring delays can cost your child a great deal in potential gains.
2. Feeling fatigued or lacking interest: Parents, teachers, and caregivers should not ignore signs that a child appears to lack interest and engagement with the world or others. Kids who are oblivious to parents or peers, or who look fatigued or lethargic for more than a few weeks should be looked at. Kids who are doing OK are naturally enthusiastic and engaged.
On the other hand, a little lack of interest and withdrawal from families and parents during brief phases in adolescence is fairly common. However, if that withdrawal is pronounced or prolonged, it should be checked since it could indicate a problem with substance abuse, gangs, bullying (either as victim or perpetrator), or depression.
3. Poor Grades: Kids drag home poor report cards for lots of reasons. Sometimes poor performance in school indicates a specific type of learning problem. Other times, it could suggest an emotional disorder is getting in the way of achievement. Occasionally, poor grades could be caused by an intellectual disability; when that’s the case, it’s usually apparent fairly early on. Whether poor school performance starts early or comes later, it’s always worth finding out what’s going on. Grades have a lot of predictive power in terms of later life success so they should never be ignored.
4. Falling back: When children appear to master a particular skill like riding a bike, reading, language, or simply stacking blocks, they really shouldn’t start sliding downhill significantly (at least for very long). If you see a kid regress or backslide from skills learned earlier, consider have the problem checked out. Perhaps it’s a temporary glitch, but we believe it’s better to be safe than sorry.
5. Excessive complaints about aches and pains: Every kid on the planet complains about aches and pains here and there—stomachaches, earaches, leg pains, and more are as common as kids leaving their toys in the living room. However, when these complaints become repeated, intense, or frequently involve vague pains like “not feeling well,” it’s time to consult your medical doctor. Sometimes the physician is going to suggest the problem may relate to anxiety at school or trouble getting along with other kids. In those instances, it’s time to seek a mental health consultation.
6. Feeling over the top anger: OK, it’s true that all kids get angry. Toddlers especially have temper tantrums from time to time. However, when these tantrums start occurring every day or continue much past toddlerhood, or if your child starts hurting others, you need to have things checked out by a mental health professional. This is one problem that can usually be resolved fairly quickly if you don’t wait too long.
7. Feeling excessive fear: Again, fear is a totally normal part of childhood, especially from the ages of six months to 6 years when kids often exhibit fears of strangers, upset when separated from their parents, fears of strange kids, fears of the dark and monsters, and fears of school. However, if such fears continue much beyond the age of 6 or if they seem excessive compared to other kids, consider seeking an evaluation.
The bottom line is that kids’ emotional problems frequently respond to early intervention surprisingly well and quickly. Some problems require more intense interventions than others, but early help is always better than delayed.
Photo by GPL Photos, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.