Soon after I had my first child, I remember passing a billboard with a baby sitting in a diaper that said “These don’t come with instructions.” At the time I only had the smallest idea of just how true that was. As parents our job is complex—how do we nurture our child’s individuality and understand their sensitivities, while also encouraging independence and the ability to learn from their mistakes?
The task can often feel monumental and overwhelming, particularly if your child is struggling. I am often asked when it is time for you and/or your child to go to a therapist for help. While the answer is as individual as the children themselves, there are a few guidelines that can help in making that determination.
When your child is endangering him/herself or threatening harm to themselves.
It is important to figure out why your child is making these threats and if in fact they are serious about them. A good therapist is skilled at making this determination and also getting to the bottom of why in fact the child feels the way they do.
When your child’s behavior is controlling the rest of the family.
Have you cancelled vacations because your child was too anxious to go? Left birthday parties early or didn’t make it to them at all. Felt like you were walking on eggshells around your child so they didn’t have a tantrum? These are a few examples of your house being out of balance. When everything is planned around your child to the detriment of the rest of the family it’s time to seek help.
When disagreements about how to handle your child’s problems cause significant tension in your marriage/relationship.
It’s natural not to agree on everything regarding co-parenting, however when there is constant strain because of a child’s behavior, help is warranted.
You simply don’t know what to do.
There are times when you feel you’ve tried everything and you are stumped as to what to do next. There is no shame in that. Having your child work with a therapist who can give them strategies to manage certain behaviors or simply gave them a safe space to talk about their feelings can be invaluable. Therapy is also a great way for you to learn more about your child and their emotional sensitivities, while strategizing about how best to manage this at home.
Getting help for your child during difficult times can also serve as an example to them that there is no shame in receiving outside help and in fact can make them feel positive about the process as they continue to mature.
Mimi Ezray, LCSW, MPH, is the Director of Children’s Clinical Services at Parents Place on the Peninsula.