WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY...
"Things in my life were pretty screwed up, and when my parents told me I was going to see a counselor, I wanted to tell them to shove it. Working with Meredith Van Ness was completely different than what I thought. She actually got it. She helped me figure some stuff out too. And she gave me some tools which have really helped me cope. Now my life feels a little less out of control, and things are really looking up."
Some people think of childhood as an easy, carefree time. But children do have problems and feel stress. Times of special changes like divorce, a death in the family, or a move can be stressful for children. During times like that, children may have a range of feelings that are very confusing.
Children need time to adjust to major family changes. During these times, you should give as much support as possible to your children. Often support from you is enough to help your children adjust to the family event and move on. Some children may need a little more help, though. They may need the help of a professional counselor or therapist.
Getting professional help can support children in different ways. Counseling can help children get in touch with their feelings. Some children may have difficulty sharing their feelings, because they want to keep the family event a secret. Other children can show their feelings in ways that cause problems by acting out, becoming violent, or becoming very quiet and withdrawn.
Here are some signs that might show that your child might need professional help. Some of these signs are fairly common; many children will do the things on the list at some point. But when the behaviors become extreme or last for a long time, you may decide that your child needs professional help.
Signs that your child might need professional help
Long periods of sadness
Your child may seem to be sad for several days or weeks. Nothing helps your child feel better. You try to entertain or distract him, but nothing works. Your child may cry over both little and big things and not be able to stop. Children might not talk about being sad; they show sadness mostly through their actions. That means they might get in trouble and break rules to show they are sad.
Living in the past
Your child may seem to think more about the past than the present. Many children will talk about the past when the family was together, when the loved one was still alive, or when the family used to live in the old place. Some children may complain that they can't stop thinking about the death, their parent's divorce, or the move. That is normal right after the event. But at some point, your child should be able to move on and talk about the present.
Withdrawn children have little or no interest in playing or being with friends. They want to be by themselves instead of being with friends or adults. They want to stay alone all the time. They don't laugh, joke, or enjoy anything they are doing.
Problems saying good-bye to parents
Your child may not want to let you leave at the beginning of the day. Or they may ask about you many times as the day goes on. This is a problem if the child was used to saying good-bye before the problem occurred.
Some children may have a hard time getting things done. They may be distracted. Maybe they cannot settle on any play activities or jobs you give them. They may not follow instructions well. They may complain that they cannot concentrate.
Changes in daily habits
Children may change what they normally do. Some children may wake up, but may not want to get up. Or they can start having problems going to sleep. They may have nightmares. They may eat much more or much less than before.
Return to younger behavior
Your child may have been toilet-trained before, but now has accidents or needs diapers. Maybe your child has returned to sucking his thumb or asking for a bottle. Some children may ask to be carried even though they can walk.
â€¢ Feeling a sense of responsibility or guilt
This is sometimes a problem with older school-age children. They may think a divorce or a death is their fault. They may believe that they are responsible for taking care of you or their sibling. They may also feel caught in the middle of parents or other family members. They may say they have difficulty talking with a you.
Some children may be angry all the time. They may often get into fights with other children in the childcare or school. They may take their anger out on other children, and sometimes on you, by hitting, biting, and shouting. You may notice that your child fights more frequently with their brothers of sisters at home.
Some children might kick and scream more often than before. They might say no to everything you ask them to do. Every small problem seems to become huge.
Feeling anxious and worried
Some children may worry a lot. They may worry about you when you are not at home. They may worry about you physically hurting your spouse or them. They may worry that another death will occur or that they will move again. They may find it very difficult to separate from you.
The parents cannot help the child
There are times when we are having a difficult time with our own feelings. A major change in the family affects all family members. You may be dealing with many changes in work, schedule, or living situation. You may feel that your child needs more, but that you cannot help at this point. This may be a good time to seek help from a counselor.
Many children do the things above at times. If the problems start suddenly after a divorce, death, or other stressful event, you child may need extra help. Getting help is important if:
the signs are more extreme than you normally see in other children,
they last day after day or week after week, or
you have tried to work with the child, but the problems continue
Counseling can be difficult for children because of the implicit difficulty with being a child and relating to an adult, especially an adult that they don't know. Our child therapist uses both play therapy and art therapy which are incredibly effective forms of counseling with children. Most children are partial to drawing or art and it can be a nice distraction in a situation where they aren't comfortable verbally communicating how they feel.