I oftentimes find myself looking at my boys, relishing in the joys and freedom that being a child brings, and think to myself “oh to be them.” They are living the dream y’all; and for that I am thankful. I also find myself just as often looking at them and wondering what the years ahead will bring. What hurts, lies, illnesses, insecurities, poor choices, and hard circumstances lie ahead? I think it is the nature of what I do that takes my mind there frequently. As I sit across from individuals young and old that are struggling, I often ask the Lord what my own children and family will face. One of the hardest things as a parent is to see your child struggling and not know what the heck is going on or what to do. 

As much as we desire for our kids to remain carefree and innocent, we all know the reality of our world is much different. Whether it is stress, grief, anxiety, negative self-thinking, bullying, or something organic; our children face it too. The same circumstantial, emotional, and mental health concerns that affect adults can also affect our children. The good news is that we have the hope of the Lord AND live in a day and time where help is available and encouraged. So how do you know when to seek help for your child or family?  Children as young as 4 can benefit from therapy. Here are some pointers on when to seek counsel from a professional:

  1. Issues beyond the home: when a child is struggling with behavior or emotional issues it typically presents itself across the board in multiple settings. 
  2. Isolation: beginning to isolate from friends and/or family members (retreating to the bedroom more often than not) can oftentimes be evidence of a bigger concern. 
  3. Drastic changes in normal daily activities: changes in eating, sleeping, and personal motivation. This may occur gradually, but you can tell it is different and more persistent than a growth spurt. In older children, this may include changes in personality, hygiene, and abnormal behaviors. You also want to take note of frequent nightmares, difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep. Something else to take note of is regression in usual behavior and mastered skills. Changes in behavior that cause you to think twice and/or alter the day for the child or family usually mean something.
  4. Excessive fear, worry, or sadness: it is completely normal for kids to have worries and sadness, and as they mature these will become more and more ‘real life’ things. If it begins to impact their day more often than not, it is time to reach out for help. 
  5. Self-harm or any self-destructive behaviors: if you find out your child has cut or intentionally harmed themselves in any way (even if it is only once), it is imperative to get help. Self-harm is a very dangerous behavior that if untreated can lead to more serious concerns. If your child expresses any thoughts of suicide, immediately contact your pediatrician, trusted therapist, or bring them to the nearest ER. 
  6. Desire or attempts to truly harm someone else or an animal.
  7. Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or thinking clearly.
  8. Preoccupation with appearance: this may or may not be combined with restricting eating, excessive exercising, or binging and purging. 
  9. Relationship concerns: tension or conflict between parent/child, child/sibling, or child/friend that is not resolving.
  10. Proactive versus reactive: counseling is always a great option to give your child an outlet to connect with and trust someone who can help teach and reinforce skills and processes that they may have a hard time receiving from a parent. I frequently work with kids and teenagers that desire someone removed from the situation to help work through things. It is always the hope of the therapist to help foster, enhance, and build the parent/child relationship, not be a replacement of it. 

The fact is that not every person that worries has an anxiety disorder, not every bout of sadness leads to clinical depression, or every circumstance always lends to professional help. Kids experience emotional shifts and struggles. That’s part of being human. Understanding when the struggle shifts from average childhood/adolescent behavior that could potentially benefit from having a therapist involved to most certainly requiring professional intervention is imperative. Or knowing when your child might respond better to a neutral third party when learning to navigate hard things. 

When we read articles like this, we can sometimes walk away either thinking “no, not my child,” “I must watch every step they make to see if my child needs…,” or “I HAVE MISSED something big [insert fear]!” Trust your instincts and discernment, but also hear the feedback of those around you and your child. You and those close around you know your child best. Use the above-mentioned things as a starting point to begin thinking about your family’s situation and season. If you ever have the thought that someone near and dear to you could benefit from some additional guidance or professional help, I encourage you to be bold and speak with someone. I know this topic can feel discouraging and daunting to say the least. We and our kids, can and will face a lot of hard things, BUT we serve an incredible God that has gifted fellow believers with the skills and abilities to walk alongside us and our families. 

Note: This article does not take the place of consulting with a mental health practitioner. If you have concerns about the mental health of your child, seek help immediately.

Author: Kyndal Jacoby

Kyndal has been a member of GLF for the past 17 years. She served as a volunteer youth leader for 10 years and has been on the GLF staff for the past 8 years. Her and her husband Juan have been married for 12 years and have 3 delightful and active boys! Kyndal is also a licensed counselor and has the privilege of walking with others through life’s ups and downs in her full-time private practice. When she isn’t enjoying her family or her work, she loves to relax with friends, try new restaurants, and organize and decorate her home. Connect with her: https://www.gracelifefellowship.org/ministries/grace-christian-counseling