Just like adults, children go through difficult periods in their life where they might need help, guidance, or just someone to listen. We all sometimes need a safe space where we can be listened and accepted, where we feel secure and free to express ourselves in a real, true and open way, a place where our feelings are validated and not judged or criticised.
Children deal with school stress, bullying, friend drama, grief, and more throughout childhood. Sometimes children are embarrassed or scared to tell a parent or caregiver that something is wrong, and other times the adults in their lives are unsure if a problem is fleeting or something more serious.
Fortunately, there are a lot of options for parents or caregivers when it comes to finding help for their children. Whether you seek help from a pediatrician, a school counsellor, or mental health professional, no parent should feel alone when it comes to protecting their child's mental health.
Kids go through phases and little moods all the time, so how do you know that your child needs support?
Here are some signs that your child may benefit from talking to a school counsellor:
1. Significant changes to mood and behaviour compared to your child’s personal baseline.
It’s about looking for changes in personality and mood that go beyond the stage of growth they are in, and their unique personality. Perhaps they're down about their body image, seem more irritable than usual, their self esteem may progressively get worse or it may be that they seem to have lost interest in the hobbies and activities they used to love.
2. A new tendency for your kids to say worrisome things that are out of character.
Always pay attention if your child starts verbalising negative things:
• saying horrible things about themselves, like calling themselves stupid, no good, or worthless
• expressing constant and increasing worries about their future
• talking about death or giving up on life
• anything to do with hurting themselves or someone else
• verbalising despair or violence.
3. Self-destructive behaviour in children can be seen in the form of a child being violent towards himself/herself, keeping away from different relationships deliberately, not participating in play, hair pulling, picking skin, broken toys, tantrums, hitting, hiding important items – childhood destructive tendencies can take many forms. In fact, children may simply be looking for a way to express how they feel.
4. Unexplained health issues.
Some children respond to stress and anxiety by internalising it, until it externalises itself in physical symptoms.
Medical symptoms that are unexplained by other things and might instead be stress and anxiety related include:
• constant low grade colds and flus
• upset stomach or changes to eating habits
• random aches and pains
• sleep issues (sleeping too much or not at all, nightmares, bedwetting, screaming while being asleep, having night terrors)
5. Changes in academic grades (negatively)
Here you might observe that your child’s grades have decreased suddenly and to a great extent. You might hear the teacher complain about the child not submitting the assignment on time or doing poorly in the internal exams.
6. Inability to focus
Along with degradation in grades in schools, inability to focus on studies or activities can be a part of stress in children. Or teachers might report that your child is having difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks at school. High sugar intake, improper sleeping pattern, stress can cause inability to focus in children. This is not limited to studies, but to other activities.
If your child shows some of these signs, it doesn’t mean that they definitely do or don’t need to talk to a specialist. Remember, in general the rule of thumb is when something interferes with day to day life, when the quality of life noticeably deteriorates, it is better to investigate, clarify what is happening and to bring in extra help. Certified school counsellors are mental health professionals. But sometimes a student’s needs require greater interventions. For example, a student might need intensive therapy that can’t be delivered in a school setting. In these cases, counsellors can help parents understand what resources are available for them outside the school, and what might work best for their child.
Asking for help is a sign of strength and self-awareness.